Eth­nic Youth Con­fer­ence goes ahead de­spite chaotic start

The Myanmar Times - - News - FIONA MAC­GRE­GOR f.mac­gre­gor@mm­ THU THU AUNG thuthuaung@mm­ – Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Ei Ei Toe Lwin

HUN­DREDS of young peo­ple from eth­nic mi­nori­ties across the coun­try gath­ered at his­toric Pan­g­long town for a ma­jor youth con­fer­ence last night, de­spite at­tempts by au­thor­i­ties to sus­pend the event.

As late as 5pm yes­ter­day, un­cer­tainty re­mained as to whether the Eth­nic Youth Con­fer­ence would be al­lowed to go ahead. A last-minute mis­sive from the Shan State govern­ment’s Min­is­ter for Ba­mar Af­fairs U Aung Than Maung had ar­rived yes­ter­day morn­ing telling or­gan­is­ers to halt pro­ceed­ings.

Fi­nal per­mis­sion green­light­ing the con­fer­ence was not se­cured un­til less than two hours be­fore a launch cel­e­bra­tion sched­uled for 7pm.

The event co­in­cides with a cru­cial meet­ing of eth­nic armed group lead­ers a Mai Ja Yang in Kachin State ahead of next month’s cor­ner­stone na­tional peace meet­ing, which has been dubbed the 21st-cen­tury Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence. The mod­ern it­er­a­tion fol­lows in the foot­steps of the lauded deal reached be­tween Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s fa­ther, Bo­gyoke Aung San, and eth­nic lead­ers nearly seven decades ago.

Amid the con­fu­sion over yes­ter­day’s sus­pen­sion or­der, it was un­clear whether the di­rec­tive had come from the Union level, or whether it was en­forced by the state’s chief min­is­ter.

Union-level peace ne­go­tia­tors told The Myan­mar Times yes­ter­day that they were un­aware of the sus­pen­sion or­der un­til the youth or­gan­is­ers called ask­ing for an ex­pla­na­tion and as­sis­tance.

But deputy di­rec­tor gen­eral for the Pres­i­dent’s Of­fice U Zaw Htay pinned the de­ci­sion on a state-level rec­om­men­da­tion.

“The state govern­ment sent a let­ter to the Union govern­ment with the sug­ges­tion that the youth con­fer­ence ‘should be sus­pended’. Af­ter dis­cus­sions among the min­istries, the Union govern­ment agreed,” he said. “This youth event could have con­se­quences for the 21st-cen­tury Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence, which the govern­ment aims to hold be­fore the end of Au­gust.”

When pressed about what kind of “con­se­quences” he meant, U Zaw Htay said only that the Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence has its own pro­ce­dures and plans in place to in­cor­po­rate civil so­ci­ety groups, and those plans should not be dis­rupted.

“Ac­tu­ally, if they had an idea [to hold the youth con­fer­ence] they should have dis­cussed it first with the com­mit­tee for the CSO Peace Fo­rum, but they didn’t. They went and did their con­fer­ence them­selves,” he said. “It might be waste of time as the govern­ment will not take into ac­count their rec­om­men­da­tions be­cause it al­ready has plans for the par­tic­i­pa­tion of civil so­ci­ety groups in the peace process,” U Zaw Htay said.

Re­gard­less of the sus­pen­sion or­der, how­ever, through­out the day youth or­gan­is­ers vowed they would go ahead with their gath­er­ing even with­out per­mis­sion.

“We got a let­ter from the state govern­ment this morn­ing telling us to sus­pend our meet­ing, we are cur­rently in ne­go­ti­a­tions with them, but what­ever hap­pens we will go ahead,” Sai Aung Myint Oo, a com­mit­tee mem­ber of the Na­tional Eth­nic Youth Con­fer­ence, said yes­ter­day morn­ing.

By that time around 300 youth had al­ready gath­ered at the con­fer­ence site, right next to the me­mo­rial for the his­toric Pan­g­long agree­ment.

A fur­ther 500 young peo­ple were es­ti­mated to be on their way for the event, which of­fi­cially be­gins to­day, and will run over a five-day pe­riod.

Salai Aung Lin, from Chin Youth, one of the con­fer­ence’s fa­cil­i­ta­tors, said, “It must go ahead. It would be a dis­as­ter if it didn’t. Seven or eight hun­dred young peo­ple are at­tend­ing, and they are so en­thu­si­as­tic.” He added that it had been very costly to ar­range the event.

As he was speak­ing to The Myan­mar Times just af­ter 5pm, Mai Mai, a well-known Kachin youth ac­tivist, gave the shout that per­mis­sion had been granted.

Event or­gan­is­ers said they be­lieved they had al­ways had the sup­port of the Shan State govern­ment. Chief Min­is­ter U Linn Htut is due to give a speech at 10am to­day, ac­cord­ing to a timetable on dis­play at the event site.

Vet­eran Kachin ac­tivist Khon Ja, who was help­ing sup­port the event, said the call for sus­pen­sion had likely been due to a mix-up and lack of clear au­thor­ity.

She sug­gested the de­ci­sion to give per­mis­sion should have been made at state level, but as the state’s chief min­is­ter had been away on busi­ness, the Ba­mar eth­nic min­is­ter had passed the re­quest for per­mis­sion on to the Union govern­ment. How­ever, most se­nior govern­ment lead­ers were also un­avail­able, in­clud­ing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who was in Laos. The ac­tivist said it was the Union govern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives who had urged the state govern­ment to post­pone the event.

Khon Ja praised the youth lead­ers for their ef­forts in the face of un­cer­tainty. “Ev­ery­one has been work­ing like a dog. So much en­ergy. I am glad I’m work­ing with young peo­ple on this, not old peo­ple!”

She added that this ma­jor eth­nic youth con­fer­ence had been in the works since 2012, and that the tim­ing in re­la­tion to the Mai Ja Yang sum­mit had been a co­in­ci­dence.

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