Ten­sions siz­zle at first day of ‘rushed’ Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence

While ne­go­ti­a­tions con­tin­ued up into the day be­fore the open­ing cer­e­mony was set to start, the con­fer­ence be­gan as sched­uled, al­beit with some last-minute tweaks to the agenda and no­table ab­sences.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page -

MIRED in dis­con­tent, the Na­tional League for Democ­racy’s bid to end decades of armed con­flict launched yes­ter­day siz­zling with ten­sion.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween eth­nic armed groups and the gov­ern­ment over the stag­ing of the 21st-cen­tury Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence were still on­go­ing as of the morn­ing the event was sched­uled to start.

The dis­agree­ments in­cluded who would chair the five-day con­fer­ence. The armed eth­nic or­gan­i­sa­tions pushed for a tri­par­tite ar­range­ment, whereas the gov­ern­ment in­sisted five ap­pointees would steer the con­fer­ence, and re­fused to ca­pit­u­late.

But the dis­agree­ments started even ear­lier with a slight­ing of the eth­nic armed groups. At an Au­gust 29 meet­ing of the prepa­ra­tion com­mit­tee in Nay Pyi Taw, the of­fi­cial ranks of the eth­nic armed group rep­re­sen­ta­tives were ab­sent from their name­plates, while the Tat­madaw rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ ranks were in­tact.

The of­fend­ing name­plates for Gen­eral Gun Maw and Gen­eral Sai Htoo of the United Na­tion­al­i­ties Fed­eral Coun­cil went vi­ral on so­cial me­dia where they gar­nered wide­spread crit­i­cism for par­tial­ity.

The dis­ap­point­ment – and lack of fi­nesse – has car­ried over into the 21stcen­tury Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence.

The gov­ern­ment must take care to show it pri­ori­tises equal­ity, said Dung Kha, a spokesper­son of the Kachin In­de­pen­dence Army’s tech­ni­cal ad­vi­sory team.

“This re­flects poorly on the po­lit­i­cal cul­ture,” he said. “This is not a so­cial event – it is a po­lit­i­cal event that has po­lit­i­cal reper­cus­sions,” he said.

The leader of the UNFC and vice chair of the Kachin In­de­pen­dence Or­gan­i­sa­tion noted the con­tro­versy im­me­di­ately in his in­tro­duc­tory re­marks dur­ing the con­fer­ence’s open­ing cer­e­mony.

“My name is U N’ Ban La. Eth­nic armed or­gan­i­sa­tions usu­ally ad­dress me as Ma­jor Gen­eral N’ Ban La,” he said.

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst U Min Zin said the small de­tails have po­ten­tial to sim­mer over at such a charged event.

“Lead­ers at the top should not ig­nore th­ese small dis­agree­ments be­cause they can lead to big­ger prob­lems,” he said.

The in­sult was al­ready heaped onto a larger con­tention – the UNFC was ini­tially de­nied the op­por­tu­nity to present re­marks at the open­ing cer­e­mony, told only the sig­na­to­ries of the cease­fire agree­ment could speak. In an eleventh-hour de­ci­sion, the gov­ern­ment seem­ingly con­ceded, and made room for Maj Gen N’ Ban La late on the af­ter­noon of Au­gust 30.

Pres­i­dent U Htin Kyaw did not de­liver re­marks as ex­pected.

Since the date of the con­fer­ence was an­nounced – just three weeks prior – armed eth­nic or­gan­i­sa­tions have ex­pressed their un­easi­ness with the per­ceived rush­ing of events.

The groups did not want the Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence to start be­fore the re­view of the po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue frame­work was com­plete, and while ne­go­ti­a­tions over the in­clu­sion of the North­ern Alliance – the Myan­mar Na­tional Demo­cratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), also known as the Kokang army; the Ta’ang Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Army (TNLA); and the Arakan Army (AA) – were still un­der way.

The NLD needs to show that it is com­mit­ted to a peace plan as a mat­ter of ur­gent pri­or­ity, but not a mat­ter to be rushed, said Sai Kyaw Nyunt, an eth­nic Shan politi­cian and one of the sec­re­taries of the prepa­ra­tion com­mit­tee.

“As a gov­ern­ment, they have a fiveyear term to work for peace,” he said.

For most of par­tic­i­pants at the con­fer­ence who spoke to The Myan­mar Times, the most en­cour­ag­ing sign has been the in­clu­siv­ity of the eth­nic armed or­gan­i­sa­tions. All but the three groups form­ing the North­ern Alliance, who are en­gaged in on­go­ing fight­ing with the Tat­madaw, agreed to send rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

“Re­gard­less of the fact that no spe­cific agree­ments will be emerg­ing from this con­fer­ence, it is sym­bol­i­cally mean­ing­ful that so many groups are com­ing to the ta­ble where they can learn the per­spec­tives of the other,” said an­a­lyst U Min Zin.

“For long-term con­crete re­sults [at a later date], the ground­work of in­ter­ac­tive lis­ten­ing, mu­tual re­spect and pa­tience are es­sen­tial,” he added.

The North­ern Alliance groups how­ever, were ef­fec­tively barred from tak­ing part in the con­fer­ence fol­low­ing dis­agree­ments over pre­con­di­tions set for their at­ten­dance.

The MNDAA, the TNLA and the AA were told they must is­sue a state­ment ex­press­ing their in­tent to sur­ren­der their stance of “armed strug­gle”, and plan to store weapons with a third party.

Though the three groups had an­nounced their readi­ness to at­tend the con­fer­ence, the ne­go­ti­a­tions over the pre­con­di­tions, and the spe­cific word­ing of their state­ment, were never fi­nalised, lead­ing to their ab­sence.

Also miss­ing was prom­i­nent eth­nic Shan politi­cian U Khun Htun Oo, who pre­vi­ously said he would not par­tic­i­pate un­less all the armed eth­nic or­gan­i­sa­tions were present.

Al­though in­vited as a spe­cial hon­orary guest to the event, for­mer pres­i­dent U Thein Sein, who laid the foun­da­tion of the peace pro­cess dur­ing his ten­ure, was also a no-show. A se­nior Union Sol­i­dar­ity and De­vel­op­ment Party mem­ber said the for­mer pres­i­dent was trav­el­ling and could not join the event.

Since there is no in­ter­change of per­spec­tives and di­a­logue dur­ing the con­fer­ence, it is hard to say what the real essence of the event will be. Most re­gard it as the foun­da­tional step upon which to build long-term po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue. At­ten­dees at yes­ter­day’s event said de­spite the rocky start, they were still op­ti­mistic that the con­fer­ence would serve as a good start­ing point.

Sun Guox­i­ang, a spe­cial en­voy from China’s Ministry of For­eign Af­fairs who at­tended the con­fer­ence yes­ter­day, said he hopes the par­tic­i­pants fo­cus on the mu­tual de­sire for peace. He said he met with the United Wa State Army and the Na­tional Demo­cratic Alliance Army, also known as the Mongla – two pow­er­ful armed groups with close ties to China – at Pangkham last week.

“I en­cour­aged them to en­gage in talks with the gov­ern­ment for Myan­mar’s in­ter­nal peace. I told them we would sup­port all mat­ters that are ben­e­fi­cial to Myan­mar’s peace pro­cess,” he told re­porters.

Gen Gun Maw said he be­lieved that sim­ply by bring­ing ev­ery­one into the same room to lis­ten to each other, the pos­si­bil­ity for re­solv­ing the decades­old in­ter­nal con­flicts has be­come a lot brighter. He added that the bid would be made even stronger by hold­ing a di­a­logue.

“We have now started the lon­gawaited con­fer­ence for peace,” he added.

Photo: Aung Khant

Photo: Pyae Thet Phyo

No­table ab­sences and lin­ger­ing sleights marked the start of the Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence yes­ter­day.

LUN MIN MANG

EI EI TOE LWIN

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