Pan­g­long billed as mere ‘open­ing cer­e­mony’ for peace process res­tart

The Myanmar Times - - News - LUN MIN MANG lun­min­mang@mm­times.com

EX­PEC­TA­TIONS for a ma­jor break­through at the up­com­ing 21st-cen­tury Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence are be­ing scaled back, with one in­di­vid­ual in­volved in the peace talks de­scrib­ing the event as merely “the grand open­ing cer­e­mony” for the govern­ment’s ef­forts to end decades of civil war.

An in­creas­ingly small win­dow un­til the con­fer­ence is con­vened – the govern­ment has set an Au­gust 31 start date – ap­pears to be one of the main fac­tors for the ex­pec­ta­tions man­age­ment tak­ing place, with some par­ties to the peace meet-up say­ing there is not enough time to pre­pare for it, in­clud­ing un­der­tak­ing a re­view of the frame­work for po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue.

On Au­gust 13, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the govern­ment, eth­nic armed groups and po­lit­i­cal par­ties held a meet­ing to re­view the frame­work for po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue at Yan­gon’s Na­tional Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and Peace Cen­tre, but par­tic­i­pants pushed sev­eral agenda items to fu­ture talks.

None­the­less, Sai Kyaw Nyunt, an eth­nic Shan politi­cian from the Shan Na­tion­al­i­ties League for Democ­racy (SNLD), said the Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence would not be post­poned.

“It will be just a grand open­ing cer­e­mony for the govern­ment’s peace process and we won’t be dis­cussing any main agenda [items] at the con­fer­ence be­cause we could not even fin­ish the re­view of the po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue frame­work within just one or two days,” he said.

U Hla Maung Shwe, a se­nior peace en­voy for the govern­ment, said hopes are still alive that three eth­nic armed or­gan­i­sa­tions known col­lec­tively as the “Kokang groups” will re­ceive in­vi­ta­tions and at­tend the con­fer­ence.

If things go “suc­cess­fully”, the groups – the Myan­mar Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance Army, the Ta’ang Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Army and the Arakan Army – will be in­vited to the Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence, he said.

Talks be­tween the three groups and govern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Shan State’s Mong La ear­lier this month left of­fi­cials from the groups dis­ap­pointed, as the govern­ment is­sued a de­mand that they dis­arm as a pre­con­di­tion for their par­tic­i­pa­tion.

The groups have said they are hope­ful that an­other dis­cus­sion would be of­fered by the govern­ment be­fore the con­fer­ence.

The Au­gust 13 meet­ing was also at­tended by the Del­e­ga­tion for Po­lit­i­cal Ne­go­ti­a­tion (DPN), a ne­go­ti­at­ing body for the nine eth­nic armed groups that form the United Na­tion­al­i­ties Fed­eral Coun­cil and did not sign last year’s so­called na­tion­wide cease­fire agree­ment. The DPN last week called for its full par­tic­i­pa­tion in the prepara­tory com­mit­tee for the Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence.

The Union Peace Di­a­logue Joint Com­mit­tee, a tri­par­tite com­mit­tee of rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the govern­ment, sig­na­tory groups and elec­tion­win­ning po­lit­i­cal par­ties, will meet to­day in Nay Pyi Taw, where the DPN’s re­quest will be dis­cussed.

Po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors have said in­clu­siv­ity is key at the up­com­ing con­fer­ence in or­der to bol­ster con­fi­dence that the par­tic­i­pat­ing par­ties are ca­pa­ble of suc­cess­fully tack­ling dif­fi­cult ne­go­ti­a­tions and re­solv­ing dis­agree­ments in the years to come.

Viewed as part of the larger peace process, the Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence should be con­sid­ered a good start­ing point, said U Yan Myo Thein, a po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor, who also warned that a lack of sub­stan­tive out­comes risked un­der­min­ing the new govern­ment’s push to re­brand and re­boot peace talks.

“If all con­cerned eth­nic armed or­gan­i­sa­tions are not al­lowed to at­tend the con­fer­ence and if there will not be any de­ci­sions made from it, the 21stcen­tury Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence would be just like the first Union Peace Con­fer­ence held by for­mer pres­i­dent U Thein Sein,” he said, re­fer­ring to a high-level sum­mit con­vened by the out­go­ing govern­ment in Jan­uary.

Echo­ing ac­counts of the Au­gust 13 re­view meet­ing from govern­ment of­fi­cials, Sai Kyaw Nyunt of the SNLD said most eth­nic armed or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­clud­ing the three Kokang groups, would likely be in­vited to the Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence.

“I think it is just a way to over­come the dead­lock on the all-in­clu­sion is­sue,” said Sai Kyaw Nyunt.

Con­cern­ing the frame­work re­view, the com­po­si­tion, sub­jects and de­ci­sion­mak­ing mech­a­nisms of the di­a­logue re­main on the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble and were car­ried over to fu­ture meet­ings.

Par­ties to the peace talks have agreed that re­view of the frame­work will con­tinue be­yond the Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence, said U Hla Maung Shwe.

At Jan­uary’s Union Peace Con­fer­ence, rep­re­sen­ta­tion was bro­ken down into seven stake­holder groups – the govern­ment, the par­lia­ment, the Tat­madaw, eth­nic armed or­gan­i­sa­tions, po­lit­i­cal par­ties, eth­nic rep­re­sen­ta­tives and “other rel­e­vant in­di­vid­u­als”.

The min­is­ter for the State Coun­sel­lor’s Of­fice last week told law­mak­ers that around 700 rep­re­sen­ta­tives would be in­vited to the Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence, with the govern­ment stick­ing with the rep­re­sen­ta­tive for­mat used early this year.

But eth­nic armed groups ex­pressed a pref­er­ence at a meet­ing in Mai Ja Yang, Kachin State, to see the groups win­nowed to just three cat­e­gories: eth­nic armed or­gan­i­sa­tions, po­lit­i­cal par­ties, and “govern­ment” – rep­re­sent­ing the ex­ec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive branches as well as the Tat­madaw.

For its part, the govern­ment has sought to re­duce po­lit­i­cal par­ties’ rep­re­sen­ta­tion at the con­fer­ence, rul­ing that only five seats will be granted to some 70 po­lit­i­cal par­ties that failed to claim any seats in last year’s elec­tion. The rest of the seats af­forded to po­lit­i­cal par­ties will be shared by the 22 po­lit­i­cal par­ties that won at least one race in the Novem­ber elec­tion.

On the sub­jects of the po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue, de­spite State Coun­sel­lor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s ini­tial in­di­ca­tion that only pol­i­tics and se­cu­rity mat­ters be dis­cussed ini­tially, five pri­mary agenda items – pol­i­tics, so­cial, is­sues the econ­omy, se­cu­rity, and land and nat­u­ral re­sources man­age­ment – will be on the agenda.

“Un­der the five main agenda items, there are about 20 sub­ti­tles, but we could re­duce them to 10 af­ter com­bin­ing sim­i­lar is­sues into one. The five main agenda items re­main un­changed,” Sai Kyaw Nyunt said of one out­come of the Au­gust 13 re­view meet­ing.

Re­gard­ing de­ci­sion-mak­ing mech­a­nisms, the frame­work cur­rently states that “im­por­tant mat­ters in­clud­ing fed­er­al­ism, se­cu­rity of the state and se­cu­rity rein­te­gra­tion should be sup­ported with the vote of at least 75 per­cent of each group and the vote of at least above 75pc of all those who at­tend the con­fer­ence”.

With the ex­cep­tion of those three is­sues, all other mat­ters “will re­quire sup­port by the vote of at least above 50pc of each group and the vote of at least above 65pc of all those who at­tend the con­fer­ence”.

Sai Kyaw Nyunt said those thresh­olds must be changed be­cause of the risk that bot­tle­necks would be cre­ated as po­lit­i­cal ne­go­ti­a­tions un­fold among par­tic­i­pat­ing par­ties.

“It is like ev­ery party in the talks holds its re­spec­tive veto. With­out a change to this type of de­ci­sion-mak­ing mech­a­nism, I think it would be hard to reach agree­ments on more dif­fi­cult mat­ters like se­cu­rity and pol­i­tics,” he said.

‘I think it is just a way to over­come the dead­lock on the all-in­clu­sion is­sue.’ Sai Kyaw Nyunt Shan Na­tion­al­i­ties League for Democ­racy

Photo: Aung Myin Ye Zaw

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the govern­ment, eth­nic armed groups and po­lit­i­cal par­ties meet at Yan­gon’s Na­tional Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and Peace Cen­tre on Au­gust 13.

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