The Myanmar Times

Secession dominates Panglong conference

The government and ethnic armed groups debated over secession and self-determinat­ion at the second session of the Panglong conference.

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THE government and ethnic armed groups have failed to reach an agreement on the issues of secession and self-determinat­ion in the final day of the second round of the 21st-Century Panglong Conference.

But all the parties agreed to continue the discussion on the issues of non-secession and self-determinat­ion during the next round of talks, which has yet to be scheduled

The second round of 21st-Century Panglong Conference is concluding today. Government, political parties and eight signatory groups discussed on the 41 points prepared in advance by the Union Political Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC).

Participan­ts yesterday reached agreement on 33 points of total 41 points, which are going to be signed by leaders of government, Tatmadaw, signatory groups and political parties as part of the “Union Peace Accord” today (May 29).

There were 20 points in the political sector discussion of which 12 were agreed and 8 were left for further negotiatio­n.

Except the sectors of politics and security, conference’s representa­tives agreed on all points in the rest sectors. Security sector’s policy debates are excluded for negotiatio­n between government (including Tatmadaw) and signatory armed groups.

The term “non-secession” remains the most debated issue in the political debates among the participan­ts during the six-day peace forum, which is ruling National League for Democracy’s policy priority since it took office in April of 2016.

During the debates in the political sectors, the government (includingT­atmadaw ) had disagreeme­nts with ethnic politician­s and armed groups reps on the term “non-secession”.

The ethnic representa­tives in the panel discussion of politics say the term “non-secession” reflects distrust of one side to the other, which could be an obstacle in trust-building.

Shan Nationalit­ies League for Democracy (SNLD) released last week a statement while its members were attending the conference has called for the use of “more positive” words than “non-secession”.

Instead of building a federal union based on “doubts”, mutualunde­rstanding, respect and trust should be the foundation of the process, it said in its statement released on May 25.

In the succeeding meetings, the participan­ts of the political debate forum went on arguing about the usage of the term, but after knowing that an agreement would not be reached, the UPDJC, a tripartite body of government, political parties and armed signatory groups to Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) authorised for holding peace dialogues, has decided to leave the two issues to be discussed at next conference.

The State Counsellor office’s director general U Zaw Htay told reporters on May 28 that both sides still have to reconcile the diverse perspectiv­es on the “non-secession” policy that were, if agreed by parties, going to be one of the basic principles for future federal building.

“If they do not agree to include the policy of “non-secession” from the union, we have to ask the question – are they willing to secede?” he said.

According U Zaw Htay, accepting the principle of “non-secession” from the union was a bargaining point of government (and Tatmadaw), of which disagreeme­nt led to the leaving of another issue of “self-determinat­ion” to be discussed at next conference.

UPDJC in May before the start of the 21st-Century Panglong Conference, agreed to put “self-determinat­ion” as one of the principles to be debated at the union-level peace talk. It is allowing the states and regions to draw their own version of constituti­on, which must not, however, go beyond the Union’s constituti­onal boundary.

Ethnic representa­tives’ insistence not to use the word “non-secession” as this makes them feel untrustwor­thy was deemed by government (and Tatmadaw) as a risk because self-determinat­ion was also on the debate-table.

U Zaw Htay said the two issues are linked; self-determinat­ion would come only after the ethnic representa­tives agreed on the principle of “nonsecessi­on” from the union.

“Some ethnic armed groups could not promise on this (not to secede from the union). We cannot continue dialogues on other issues such as selfdeterm­ination unless they are committed to agree on ‘non-secession’ principle,” he said.

Leaving eight points to be discussed at the next conference, the political forum in the 21st-Century Panglong Conference could agree on only 12 points.

Participan­ts also discussed in different forums social, economy, security, land and environmen­t issues.

Northern groups’ first time meeting with State Counsellor

Though expressed as ‘more social’ rather than ‘political’, the meeting of Wa-led new committee with State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who also chairs the National Reconcilia­tion and Peace Centre, government’s peace secretaria­t, was considered an important step in the ongoing peace process.

Among the groups who met with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi were representa­tives from the three excluded groups – Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (Kokang), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army by the former administra­tion to have peace negotiatio­n or sign the NCA.

The three groups together with some factions of Kachin Independen­ce Army, formed Northern Alliance and launched coordinate­d offensives against military targets of government and civilian infrastruc­ture in November of 2016, causing disruption of border-trade between China and Myanmar.

The committee formed in late February and led by United Wa State Army, the self-proclaimed “Federal Political Negotiatio­n and Consultati­ve Committee” also includes KIA, National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA aka Mongla), Shan State Progressiv­e Party (SSPP). It has called for replacemen­t of NCA with a more justified peace treaty.

Despite having heard the straightfo­rward speech of Commander-inChief of Defense Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing at the opening ceremony on May 24 that the army will not accept alternativ­e way to NCA for peace, members of the FPNCC insisted that they will not sign the NCA because it could not end fighting aftermath the signing. Instead,they said they would seek alternativ­e way.

U Zaw Htay also said NCA cannot be amended, but the political dialogue framework can be compromise­d with the armed ethnic groups.

The committee also handed to the State Counsellor their proposal for peace negotiatio­n with the government.

In a booklet distribute­d by the committee before they meet, it said there were initial efforts to amend the NCA between the UWSA and Tatmadaw. The efforts however failed after a summit of ethnic groups in Wa’s stronghold capital of Pangkham in April. It did not elaborate why the efforts failed.

“The NCA that she said and what we said are not the same. We are going to sign only the ceasefire agreement that we have amended,” Zhao Guo An, head of UWSA’s foreign affairs department told reporters after meeting with the State Counsellor.

China has played an important role in negotiatin­g with government and Tatmadaw to allow the Northern Alliance members to appear at the opening ceremony of 21st-Century Panglong Conference.

Sun Guoxiang, special envoy on Asian Affairs of Chinese foreign affairs ministry met with senior general Min AungHlaing and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on May 23, just one day before the conference kicked off. How the Chinese diplomat negotiated has not yet been revealed.

 ?? Photo: Pyae Thet Phyo ?? United Wa State Party members arrive at the Horizon Lake View Hotel in Nay Pyi Taw after meeting State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on May 26.
Photo: Pyae Thet Phyo United Wa State Party members arrive at the Horizon Lake View Hotel in Nay Pyi Taw after meeting State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on May 26.
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