Pan­g­long wraps up early

De­spite glitches and an in­aus­pi­cious sec­ond-day walk­out, the peace con­fer­ence was her­alded as a land­mark first step, with plenty more work to come be­fore the sec­ond ses­sion kicks off in six months.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - EI EI TOE LWIN eieitoel­win@mm­times.com

CRIT­I­CISM, dis­putes or bumps along the road are no cause for con­cern; the only thing to fear is not ac­knowl­edg­ing the prob­lem at all, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said at the close of a land­mark peace sum­mit this week­end.

Her ad­min­is­tra­tion’s in­au­gu­ral bid for peace con­cluded one day early, saw a ma­jor group walk­out and in­volved no break­throughs. Re­gard­less of the mishaps, the state coun­sel­lor nev­er­the­less her­alded the event as a suc­cess­ful step to­ward re­solv­ing the coun­try’s en­trenched armed con­flicts.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, lead­ers of eth­nic armed groups, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Tat­madaw and third-party ob­servers were all brought to the ta­ble at the three-and-a-half-day peace sum­mit in Nay Pyi Taw.

Al­though par­tic­i­pants voiced anger over the lack of sub­stan­tive de­bate at the con­fer­ence, with one del­e­gate go­ing so far as to com­pare it to an un­sea­soned curry, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi praised what she said was the very first step in a chal­leng­ing peace process.

“The most im­por­tant thing is that we can agree to tackle the is­sues coura­geously,” she said.

In her clos­ing re­marks, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi urged all par­tic­i­pants to avoid dwelling on past griev­ances or slights.

“Af­ter lis­ten­ing to the pre­sen­ta­tions of all groups over the past four days, I know now who is con­cen­trated on past wrongs and who is fo­cused on how to build our fu­ture state,” the state coun­sel­lor said. “But there is time yet for those stuck in the past to look for­ward.”

Re­gard­ing crit­i­cism that the peace sum­mit, dubbed the 21st-cen­tury Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence, was rushed, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said the new gov­ern­ment was al­ready late on em­bark­ing on the jour­ney to­ward peace. She added that all par­tic­i­pants have a unique op­por­tu­nity to join the process and help ac­com­plish a great task.

In a move Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said was meant to make the process as all-in­clu­sive as pos­si­ble, the Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence was broad­cast on state tele­vi­sion, giv­ing the pub­lic a win­dow into the sum­mit.

“The pub­lic must un­der­stand that they must take part in this peace process too,” said Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

De­mands of the eth­nic groups The broad­cast­ing al­lowed a rare pub­lic stage for the eth­nic groups as they aired their griev­ances and took shots at the Tat­madaw and each other over the course of the con­fer­ence.

Dur­ing the four-day event, 73 pa­pers were pre­sented by rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the gov­ern­ment, the Tat­madaw, po­lit­i­cal par­ties and eth­nic armed groups. Each were given a 10-minute slot.

Most of the speak­ers fo­cused on their vi­sion for a fed­eral demo­cratic Union, as well as per­ceived se­cu­rity and de­fence pri­or­i­ties and the need for greater eth­nic equal­ity, sovereignty and right to self-de­ter­mi­na­tion. Some called for a de­cen­tral­i­sa­tion of the gov­ern­ment; many pressed for re­vis­ing the con­sti­tu­tion.

Af­ter a last-minute change of plans al­lowed the United Na­tion­al­i­ties Fed­eral Coun­cil to speak, the al­liance of seven eth­nic armed groups which did not sign last year’s na­tion­wide cease­fire agree­ment pro­posed re­or­gan­is­ing the Union’s armed forces. The 10-point agenda fo­cused on bring­ing the armed forces un­der civil­ian ad­min­is­tra­tion, and in­cluded the stip­u­la­tion that eth­nic mi­nori­ties must be ap­pointed to helm the re­vised Union mil­i­tary.

The UNFC also pro­posed re­or­gan­is­ing the coun­try into 14 states, with the seven cur­rent states pre­served, and the seven re­gions turned into “states of na­tion­al­i­ties”.

“We sug­gested sim­ple ways of build­ing the fed­eral demo­cratic Union that might bet­ter guar­an­tee a level of equal­ity we don’t cur­rently have,” said U Naing Han Thar, a mem­ber of the UNFC.

Mean­while the Wa and the Red Shan ar­gued that their au­ton­o­mous ar­eas – quasi-fief­doms in Shan State – con­tinue to be recog­nised as self­gov­ern­ing ar­eas.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Myan­mar Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance Army (MNDAA) urged the gov­ern­ment to en­sure the fu­ture in­clu­sion of the “North­ern Al­liance” – the Ta’ang Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion Army (TNLA), the Arakan Army and the MNDAA, also known as the Kokang group – af­ter the three al­lies were ef­fec­tively barred from at­tend­ing the Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence by the Tat­madaw’s de­mands that they sur­ren­der their armed stance.

The Tat­mataw and the 2008 con­sti­tu­tion Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Tat­madaw and the Union Sol­i­dar­ity and Devel­op­ment Party used their slots to reaf­firm that the foun­da­tion of the Union must con­tinue to be the mil­i­tary­drafted 2008 con­sti­tu­tion, as well as the ba­sic prin­ci­ples of the na­tion­wide cease­fire agree­ment signed last year.

“When I look at the pre­sen­ta­tions, some sug­ges­tions are sim­ply im­pos­si­ble de­mands [as they vi­o­late the con­sti­tu­tion],” Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Yar Pyae said in his clos­ing re­marks.

“But it does not mat­ter. The most im­por­tant thing is to find com­mon ground for a fu­ture fed­eral Union though a ne­go­ti­a­tion process,” he added.

The stead­fast in­sis­tence on pre­serv­ing the 2008 con­sti­tu­tion was mir­rored by an equally staunch fac­tion of eth­nic groups push­ing for a re­draft­ing of the char­ter.

U Naing Han Thar of the UNFC said no con­crete peace agree­ment or com­mon out­look on the fed­eral Union would ever be achieved if the Tat­madaw con­tin­ues to ne­ces­si­tate up­hold­ing the 2008 con­sti­tu­tion, and the key po­lit­i­cal role it en­shrines for the mil­i­tary. Ten­sions primed below the sur­face But in­equal­ity was both a central prob­lem the con­fer­ence sought to ad­dress and an un­der­ly­ing weak­ness it fell prey to. Just one day into the sum­mit Myan­mar’s most pow­er­ful armed eth­nic group, the United Wa State Army, stormed out of the con­ven­tion cen­tre, cit­ing “in­equal­ity” and “dis­crim­i­na­tion” af­ter an or­gan­i­sa­tional er­ror rel­e­gated them to “ob­servers”.

The Wa del­e­gates were in­ad­ver­tently barred from pre­sent­ing at the con­fer­ence, a mis­take gov­ern­ment ne­go­tia­tor U Khin Zaw Oo re­ferred to as a “mis­un­der­stand­ing” that was go­ing to be cor­rected. The UWSA del­e­gates were not aware they were sup­posed to li­aise with a lead eth­nic armed or­gan­i­sa­tion del­e­gate for their full mem­ber­ship cards, he said.

The gov­ern­ment sent an of­fi­cial apol­ogy to the UWSA head­quar­ters, with Wa lead­er­ship set to re­con­sider at­ten­dance at fu­ture peace meet­ings.

But or­gan­i­sa­tional mix-ups re­flect­ing po­ten­tial, if in­ad­ver­tent, dis­crim­i­na­tion per­vaded the con­fer­ence.

At the gov­ern­ment’s gala din­ner on the even­ing of the first day, Karen and Kachin eth­nic lead­ers were placed at a sec­ond-tier ta­ble. When com­plaints were lodged with the man­ag­ing staff, the del­e­gates were moved to the first­tier ta­ble, caus­ing other par­tic­i­pants to be dis­placed. Some sig­nif­i­cant del­e­gates re­tired to their ho­tel with­out hav­ing a seat, or din­ner.

A con­trast in sta­tus was also ap­par­ent in how par­tic­i­pants were dressed. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives crit­i­cised the Tat­madaw for at­tend­ing the con­fer­ence in mil­i­tary uni­forms that in­cluded their rank, while of­fi­cials from the eth­nic armed groups wore eth­nic dress in­stead of fa­tigues.

The eth­nic del­e­gates’ nametags were also stripped of their rank, while the Tat­madaw rep­re­sen­ta­tives’ were in­cluded.

A fe­male fa­cil­i­ta­tor was given a whis­pered but still au­di­ble rep­ri­mand by a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial af­ter she an­nounced the name of an eth­nic speaker in­clud­ing his mil­i­tary rank.

Leader of the Kachin In­de­pen­dence Or­gan­i­sa­tion Gen­eral N’Ban La ad­dressed the ten­sion in his open­ing speech. “I’m U N’Ban La,” he said. “But eth­nic armed groups call me Gen­eral N’Ban La.”

Par­tic­i­pants were also made fu­ri­ous over vi­ral so­cial media posts of at­ten­dees fall­ing asleep at the con­fer­ence.

At a press con­fer­ence on the third day, Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong, vice chair of the Chin Na­tional Front, chas­tised the media, and re­quested re­porters and pho­tog­ra­phers re­frain from dam­ag­ing the im­age of the del­e­gates for the sake of sup­port­ing a pos­i­tive peace process.

“Yes­ter­day, you [the media] down­graded our dig­nity,” he said, re­fer­ring to the pho­tos of sleep­ing del­e­gates.

Many blamed for­mer mil­i­tary gen­eral and gov­ern­ment peace ne­go­tia­tor U Khin Zaw Oo for the hitches in the con­fer­ence. While the gov­ern­ment had con­vened a prepa­ra­tion com­mit­tee for stag­ing the Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence, it was ap­par­ent that U Khin Zaw Oo was call­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tional shots, and even con­trol­ling the seat­ing ar­range­ments dur­ing pho­tos.

How­ever, on his Face­book page, U Khin Zaw Oo de­nied be­ing a key player. “I just did my best to try to make it eas­ier out of good­will,” he said.

He also en­cour­aged pa­tience for mi­nor mis­takes at such a big event. “We had to make ar­range­ments for over 1600 peo­ple,” he said.

Next steps The land­mark gath­er­ing will now be fol­lowed by a six-month re­cess be­fore a fol­low-up Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence is called.

In the in­terim, the Union Peace Dia­logue Joint Com­mit­tee (UPDJC) plans to hold a na­tional-level po­lit­i­cal dia­logue at the state and re­gion lev­els in or­der to fi­nalise the dia­logue frame­work.

While non-NCA sig­na­tory groups were per­mit­ted to at­tend the 21stcen­tury Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence, they will not be al­lowed to take part in the na­tional-level peace talks, said UPDJC mem­ber Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong.

Non-sig­na­tory groups must first sign the NCA if they wish to take part in the dia­logue phase of the process, with the ex­pec­ta­tion that more armed groups will join the ini­tial eight sig­na­to­ries in the com­ing months.

Ef­fec­tively, this means that mem­bers of the United Na­tion­al­i­ties Fed­eral Coun­cil, as well as the MNDAA, the AA and the TNLA, are not in­cluded in the com­ing steps of the peace process.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials en­cour­aged eth­nic armed groups to find ways to sign the NCA in the in­terim pe­riod. If they can­not sign within this pe­riod, it is not yet clear if they will be in­vited to at­tend the up­com­ing sec­ond ses­sion of the 21st-cen­tury Pan­g­long Con­fer­ence.

Gen­eral Gun Maw from the Kachin In­de­pen­dence Or­gan­i­sa­tion said no one wants to see any groups left be­hind, and so ne­go­ti­a­tions over sign­ing the NCA must be­gin as a mat­ter of ur­gency.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that while the gov­ern­ment pri­ori­tises mak­ing the process as in­clu­sive as pos­si­ble, it can­not wait in­def­i­nitely to start the po­lit­i­cal dia­logue.

“They [the non-sig­na­to­ries) have to think about it in this com­ing pe­riod. But it is im­pos­si­ble to wait and hold up the process … with­out know­ing when they will sign,” U Khin Zaw Oo said.

‘The most im­por­tant thing is that we can agree to tackle the is­sues coura­geously.’

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi State coun­sel­lor

Photo:Aung Khant

State Coun­sel­lor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi ar­rives for the fourth and fi­nal day of the 21st-cen­tury Pan­g­long Peace Con­fer­ence in Nay Pyi Taw on Septem­ber 3.

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