Ethnic armed groups reunify
After the Mai Ja Yang summit concluded over the weekend, ethnic armed organisations said they will mull attending the upcoming Panglong Conference depending on how inclusive the government decides to make it.
ETHNIC armed groups concluded the Mai Ja Yang summit over the weekend on an ambivalent note, saying they would decide whether to attend the cornerstone of the new administration’s peace plan, the 21st-century Panglong Conference, only after determining how all-inclusive the conference will be.
Officials from the ethnic armed groups that attended the summit said they would call on the government to include all groups in the Panglong Conference. Inclusivity was also a major sticking point in last year’s so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement, with armed groups currently fighting with the Tatmadaw and those without a standing army not invited into the process by the government of then-president U Thein Sein.
“While the [current] government is trying to include all armed ethnic organisations, we at the other side are making the same call. It will depend on the talks that we will have with the government in the coming days,” said Pado Saw Kwe Htoo Win, general secretary of Karen National Union (KNU).
Officials acknowledged that the number of groups attending the Panglong Conference will depend on the government, which has yet to send official invitations to the event slated for the end of August.
A high-ranking Chinese diplomat who observed the Mai Ja Yang summit pledged that the Chinese government will support its neighbouring country’s peace process.
“We encourage all the armed ethnic organisations to attend the 21st-century Panglong Conference for the internal peace of Myanmar. We recognise that there are diverse and different perspectives on peace by different parties. We hope that all sides cooperate for the achievement of peace in Myanmar,” said Sun Guoxiang, special envoy for Asian Affairs at the foreign affairs ministry in China.
Mr Sun compared armed ethnic organisations to travellers taking the same train, but joining at different stations.
But Sai Kyaw Nyunt, a representative of the United Nationalities Alliance, a bloc of ethnic political parties, said of the analogy, “We cannot be travelling in the same train if some groups are not given tickets or the door is not opened for them.”
Not all ethnic armed groups attended the five-day summit in Kachin State. The Kokang (Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army passed up on invitations to attend, though their ally the Arakan Army was present.
The Mongla (National Democratic Alliance Army) and the United Wa State Army (UWSA) also missed the summit in order to meet with the state counsellor and the commanderin-chief in Nay Pyi Taw.
Khu Oo Reh, general secretary of the United Nationalities Federal Council, said the Kokang and the Ta’ang said they had some difficulties preventing them from joining the talks last week, but would cooperate in later steps of the peace process.
Brigadier General Tun Myat Naing, chief of the Arakan Army, told The Myanmar Times that his two allies are unsure of whether the government intends to include them in the 21stcentury Panglong Conference.
“We have made offers and statements expressing that we support the 21st-century Panglong Conference. If they [the government] offers a constructive response, it will be easier for us to move forward. If they want to include us, they have to invite our allies too. They cannot separate us,” he said.
Though the summit was meant to organise shared perspectives for the upcoming conference and to find common ground for long-term federal state-building, the summit was unable to address all the issues on the table.
Summit attendees formed a working group to continue to organise the remaining points proposed but that had to be left aside due to time limitations, said Khu Oo Reh, who is also the vice chair of the Karenni National Progressive Party.
“Although we could not hold talks on all of the issues proposed, we accomplished nearly 100 percent,” he said.
During the meeting, attendees approved a draft of a booklet termed “Reference to the Panglong principles”. They also discussed a state structure under an idealised federal Union.
Participants also suggested that the Tatmadaw should be brought under civilian control. General Gun Maw of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) said this point was widely accepted in the meeting, as well as by most people around the country.
On the framework for political dialogue, they discussed composition and representation, as well as how decisions will be made. Armed groups said they would like to reduce the composition of the Union Peace Conference participants from the current seven parties with more than 700 participants, to only three parties. The ideal number of delegates is yet to be discussed.
Pado Saw Kwe Htoo Win of the KNU pointed out that both the nationwide ceasefire agreement and Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee consist of only three parties – ethnic armed organisations, political parties and the government, which represents a combination of the executive branch, the hluttaws and the Tatmadaw.
“We think that if we can convene our political dialogue with just three parties, it is more practical,” he said.
Although State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had previously said that the political dialogue should discuss political and security matters, the summit attendees agreed that five issues – politics, security, economics, social impacts and the environment – should all be discussed.
Last October, eight non-state armed organisations chose to sign the NCA with the former government, while other groups including members of the UNFC declined to sign the agreement because of its only partial inclusiveness.
Representatives from 17 of Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups attend last week’s Mai Ja Yang summit in Kachin State.