In search of Panglong’s promise
CONVENED in February 1947, the original Panglong Conference is often feted as a unifying of “Burma proper” with the nation’s “frontier areas”, the former primarily the domain of the Bamar majority and the latter home to a plethora of ethnic minorities.
The conference participants – Bamar leader Bogyoke Aung San and ethnic Chin, Kachin and Shan leaders – were seeking to expedite independence from British colonial rule and lay the groundwork for a future nation, one which would share power with the different ethnic groups.
Its outcome, the signing of the Panglong Agreement, had this provision at its core: “Full autonomy in internal administration for the Frontier Areas is accepted in principle.”
The “Spirit of Panglong” was never realised, however. Bogyoke Aung San was assassinated the year of the agreement’s signing, and a 1962 military coup all but assured his effort to bridge the ethnic divide faltered.
The coup’s orchestrator, General Ne Win, made his own attempt to unify the increasingly fractured nation, but the talks ended in failure.
In 1993, the State Peace and Development Council made another pass, but as a major offensive against the KNU from 2005 to 2008 and the breakdown of a TatmadawKIA ceasefire in June 2011 attest, the promise of Panglong has never truly been fulfilled.
Just two months after the Kachin conflict resumed, then-president U Thein Sein made his own appeal to Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups.
The outreach worked – to an extent. His peace push arguably culminated in October 2015, when eight non-state armed groups signed a nationwide ceasefire agreement. However, about a dozen others declined to sign on to the accord or were left off the list of eligible signatories.
With U Thein Sein’s government transferring power to the National League for Democracy at the end of March of this year, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi assumed full responsibility for steering the peace process. In April, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of Bogyoke Aung San, wilfully shouldered the burden of Panglong’s legacy, calling for a “21st-century Panglong Conference”.
That conference convenes tomorrow, with the weight of the 1947 accord, decades of ethnic grievances and suffering, and high expectations converging on Nay Pyi Taw.