Quite a lot of activities by influential actors, prior to the start of 21st Century Panglong Conference (21CPC), have been taking place to empower and energize the gathering to be successful, although the military faction within the government might be having a second thought to the all-inclusiveness approach of the de facto country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
While not directly involved in 21CPC, the naming of former UN General Secretary Kofi Annan to head the newly formed Arakan State Advisory Commission of fact-finding and suggestions to the “Rohingya” issue could be seen as a well-timed move to show the government’s change of approach, from the consideration policy of purely domestic to international concern, complimenting its peace process as a whole.
Furthermore, the UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon is scheduled to attend the opening of 21CPC; the Chinese diplomat who had enthusiastically participated in Mai Ja Yang ethnic leadership meeting, openly urging the UWSA and Mongla or NDAA to attend the Panglong Convention recently; the excluded three Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) – Kokang or Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Palaung or Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA), that the military (Tatmadaw) is keen to sideline, joint statement that they would attend the said meeting if invited; coupled with head of the MNDAA Peng Jaisheng’s public statement and endorsement on 15 August, enthusiastically hinting to participate; and of course, the pending and unclear undertaking of the military in relation to this unresolved issue, on whether the 3 EAOs would be allowed to participate; all should be viewed within the context of 21CPC.
In addition, Roland Kobia, the European Union’s ambassador to Burma, told journalists in Mandalay on 23 August that dialogue is an important element of sustainable peace in the country.
“The EU’s concern is to at least give a chance to dialogue. If they [the ethnic groups] are invited to discuss at the table, and when they are around the table, they can agree and disagree, and at least, they will have a chance to dialogue,” said the ambassador, according to a recent report of The Irrawaddy.
“If Myanmar wants to have a democratic system, it needs to end the conflicts. Democracy is incompatible with war. To make this happen, all‐inclusiveness is important,” Kobia correctly stressed.
Apart from such a host of conflicting interest and intense lobbying by various interest groups, the some 70 unelected political parties, which were given a five person representative quota, were furious for such small participation count and resolved to boycott the gathering.
According to Saw Than Myint, Chairman of the Federal Union Party, an alliance of sixteen ethnic political party, told Radio Free Asia, on 23 August, that after the meeting was held at the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre in Yangon by some 30 political parties.
They reportedly resolved to boycott the 21CPC, due to the small quota representation of five, for some 70 political parties that failed to get elected in last November nationwide elections. Apart from that, putting them into the category of appropriate persons ought-to-attend belittled their standing of being political parties and could not be accepted. Accordingly, a statement on their rejection and boycott by the 30 political parties was said to be eventually issued.
Also at this writing, it seems that out of the twenty-one EAOs, seventeen are almost sure to attend, according to Salai Lian Hmung of Chin National Front (CNF), when briefing the journalists at the end of the meeting between Suu Kyi and the signatory eight EAOs, on 24 August.
On 25 August, according to a statement released by the United nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) at the conclusion of a two-day “emergency meeting” in Chiang Mai, Thailand, it is committed to attend the 21CPC.
Parallel to this worry that the gathering would not be all-inclusive, the ongoing fighting in resources rich Kachin State, Hpakant area and Tatmadaw’s offensives on KIA positions, including recent heavy artillery fires around the vicinity of it’s headquarters, also could derail the peace process looms quite large. All these don’t bode well for the forthcoming national reconciliation gathering to be successful.
And perhaps to make a last minute plea to all warring parties, EAOs and as well the Tatmadaw, Suu Kyi when meeting the signatory eight EAOs on 24 August urged them that to seriously consider because it would not be known, for how long the country would have to wait (for peace) further and to what extend it could be hurt, if the peace convention is not successful.
She stressed: “A country’s history is very lengthly. If an opportunity is missed, our times and abilities invested in the peace process would have been wasted.”
She added that all should ask critical question on why we failed to build a lasting peace and which side has failed to bring about peace to the country, emphasizing that if both sides apply fair thinking to these questions, trust can be established.
While her plea would be heeded or not remains unclear, especially by the Tatmadaw faction of her government – that is to let the three EAOs participate and stop the offensives in Kachin State, the convention is just going to be an “opening” and not yet a “substantive negotiation process” that would bring about the conflict resolution. Because the framework for political dialogue still need to be worked out, including the EAOs’ preferred tripartite position against the military’s inclined seven parties participation stance.
The ethnic nationalities uphold the decades-long United Nations endorsed tripartite dialogue which includes, the government-parliament-military, the EAOs and all the registered political parties, while the military would like to hold on to the seven party arrangement, as was agreed in the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), signed late last year with the eight EAOs, out of twenty-one.
Regarding the immediate, short term issue of all-inclusiveness, on the part of the military, it is actually not hard to bridge, as it is just a matter of some wordings that needs to be ironed out, according to Mongla’s spokesman Kyi Myint.
Talking on the sideline, on the eve of China’s Special Envoy on Asian Affairs Sun Guoxiang visit to woo United Wa State Army (UWSA) and National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA),on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively, to take part in the 21CPC, scheduled to begin on August 31, Kyi Myint downplayed the significance of the Burma Army’s demand, which does not entail actual, immediate disarmament but a commitment to do so at an unspecified point in the future: the current dispute between the Burma Army and the three armed groups is “a disagreement over words,” and could readily be solved through “negotiation,” according to The Irrawaddy recent report.
Reportedly, Sun Guoxiang, who attended the ethnic armed groups in the Kachin State border town of Mai Ja Yang in July, was able to secure the agreement of two armed groups to participate in the 21CPC.
Given such situation, even if the military faction reluctantly gives in to the all inclusiveness political position of Suu Kyi, a host of questions on core issues still remains to be resolved. But all would boil down to the fact if national equality, ethnic rights of self determination and democratization could be worked out satisfactorily among all the ethnic groups, Bamar included, as this would determine whether or not the lasting peace and political settlement could be achieved.
But first thing first and let us just hope that the forthcoming 21CPC will be all-inclusive, comprehensive enough and that the Tatmadaw would cooperate and not place any barrier to the planned gathering.