Row stoked by omission of rank from name cards
CONTROVERSY swirled this week over the printing of name cards for attendees of a preparatory committee meeting ahead of the 21st-century Panglong Conference, as leaders of ethnic armed groups were not enumerated along with their military rank, in contrast to their Tatmadaw counterparts.
General Gun Maw of the Kachin Independence Army posted photos on social media of the name cards for himself and General Sai Htoo of the Shan State Progressive Party, which did not include the ranks of their respective armed group leaders in front of their names. Ethnic communities quickly began sharing the post and questioning how Tatmadaw officers’ name cards were written.
Photos of Tatmadaw representatives’ name cards at the meeting were later circulated, listing Lieutenant General Tin Maung Win, Lieutenant General Khin Zaw Oo and other ranking officers at the joint preparatory committee meeting held August 29 at Thingaha Hotel in Nay Pyi Taw.
Athong Makury, president of the Council of Naga Affairs, said the omission was “demeaning” to the leaders of ethnic armed groups.
“So sad to see this,” he added. “If this is the type of ‘Panglong Spirit’ the military subscribes to, it is no way to reach a place of peace.”
In a statement yesterday, civil society organisations said given the conference’s historic significance, acknowledging the ranks and responsibilities of ethnic armed groups’ leaders was part of the peace-making process as well as a desirable gesture of political accommodation. Failing to accord the ethnic leaders their ranks was contrary to the spirit of equality and mutual respect among Myanmar’s ethnic groups that was the embodiment of the “Panglong Spirit”, the statement added.
The National Reconciliation and Peace Center and members of the Panglong Conference’s joint organising committee were unavailable for comment yesterday.
Today’s opening ceremony and five days of talks to follow were called by State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who in April invoked the original 1947 Panglong Conference in describing her desire to hold a modern version of the historic gathering in Shan State. The 1947 meeting involved Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, Bogyoke Aung San, and ethnic Chin, Kachin and Shan representatives.
An accord on autonomy that they reached in February of that year is still widely praised for the “Panglong Spirit” of respect and compromise that signatories agreed would underpin an independent Burma.
Sai Aung Myint Oo, a Shan youth leader, said the name-card rank omissions were an affront to that spirit.
“It was an action that calls into question the [issues of] equality and respect,” he said. “The armed groups have been representing whole ethnic groups and protecting their own ethnic people for about five decades. It is a form of unacceptable behaviour on the path of the peace process and national reconciliation.”
Kachin youth Lahpai Zau La said if conference organisers were unwilling to print ethnic armed group leaders’ ranks, cards featuring their family names might be enough to appease critics.
“Even if they don’t want to mention the position of ethnic leaders, they should address them in a polite way, like putting the family name in front of a given name, like Gun Maw. If they put ‘Sumlut Gun Maw’, that would be appropriate. We have many Gun Maws. It’s rude [not to do so],” he said.
“I hope they will realise and fix it,” he added.