Khun Tun Oo, the chairman of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), has declined to attend the Union Peace Conference, which began today in the Burmese capital Naypyidaw.
According to Sai Lek, the spokesperson for the SNLD, Khun Tun Oo decided against participating because the meeting was not inclusive of all groups.
“After being invited by the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), he [Khun Tun Oo] decided to attend the talks,” said Sai Lek. “However, because the government and military did not invite the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and Arakan Army, he decided against going.”
Sai Lek said that Khun Tun Oo has always maintained that all armed groups must be invited to the Union Peace Conference, dubbed the “21st Century Panglong Conference” (21CPC) by its host, Burma’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.
The SNLD chairman is arguably the highest profile delegate to boycott the conference. His party won the second largest number of seats in Shan State at last year’s general election.
Lt-Gen Yawk Serk, the chairman of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State (RCSS/SSA), and Gen. Pang Fa, the leader of the Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) are also notable absentees among the 700 other delegates today in Naypyidaw.
However, many other ethnic Shan groups are represented at the conference, including members of Shan political parties, armed groups and civil society organizations.
Among those present at this morning’s opening ceremony was Gen. Hso Ten, a veteran of the SSPP/SSA, which is one of the ethnic armed organizations that declined to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the Thein Sein government on October 15 last year.
The delegation of representatives from RCSS/SSA, one of eight armed groups that signed the NCA, was led by Brig-Gen Pong Khur.
The 21CPC is already being hailed as a historic event, as Suu Kyi hosts her government’s first round of peace talks since taking power. The five-day forum will include representatives of Burma’s ethnic groups, the government, parliament, political parties, and some of the top brass from the Burmese military, and their agenda will focus on laying the foundations for political dialogue and what many hope will be a peaceful future.
The talks are being named after the Panglong Conference of 1947, when leaders of the Shan, Kachin and Chin met with Gen. Aung San, the father of Suu Kyi, in the Shan town of Panglong, where together they drafted a constitution as part of steps to attain independence from Britain.
The agreement reached at Panglong stipulated that the frontier people or ethnic groups had the right to secede 10 years after the formation of the Union. However, Aung San was assassinated shortly after Panglong, and any hopes the ethnic minority peoples had of gaining autonomy were further shattered in 1962 when a military coup was staged by Gen. Ne Win.
By Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)