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The United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) have accepted an invitation to join the so-called 21st Century Panglong Conference envisioned by the Aung San Suu Kyi-led government.
Peace negotiators representing the new government on Friday met with senior members of the UWSA and NDAA in Mongla, headquarters of the latter’s self-administered territory, known as Shan State Special Region-4, according to Khin Zaw Oo, former senior advisor to the now-defunct Myanmar Peace Centre.
The negotiators have been tasked with liaising with ethnic armed groups that signed last year’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the government of former President Thein Sein. But they have also requested meetings with non-signatories to the agreement, including groups in northern Shan State that were excluded from the ceasefire talks or that chose to not to participate in the peace process.
Khin Zaw Oo was part of the government delegation, which he said included leading officials of the two Panglong preparatory sub-committees.
“The [delegation] extended invitations to [UWSA and Mongla] leaders to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement and join the 21st Century Panglong Conference in Naypyidaw, where they can meet with the heads of state whenever they are ready,” said Khin Zaw Oo.
“The ethnic leaders delightfully accepted our invitation,” he said.
Neither the two armed groups nor the government were available for comment.
The UWSA and NDAA are among several ethnic militias that declined the Thein Sein government’s offer to sign the NCA, citing its decision to exclude groups such as Kokang rebels the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Arakan Army, all of whom have continued fighting battles with the Burmese army.
Meanwhile, the Council of the European Union issued a statement on Monday urging all parties in the country’s armed conflicts to fully participate in the peace process.
“It is essential that all stakeholders, particularly ethnic armed groups which are yet to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, ethnic and other political parties and civil society, including women and youth, can effectively participate in the forthcoming political dialogue and the so called ’21st Century Panglong Conference’,” the press release on EU strategy with Burma said.
The statement comes one month after an EU delegation concluded a fact-finding mission to northern Shan State to learn about the conflict there.
“Fighting was ongoing just a few kilometres away from our meetings. We hope that the conflict parties in Shan State will soon lay down their arms and return to the negotiating table,” EU Ambassador Roland Kobia, who led the delegation, said at the time.