Burma’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi will meet with senior representatives of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) in Rangoon on 17 July, her government has announced.
It will be the first time the UNFC, a bloc of Burma’s major ethnic armed groups, has sat for talks with the Burmese government; the previous Thein Sein administration only met with armed groups individually.
The meeting is expected to lay some groundwork for the upcoming political dialogue between the government, the ethnic groups and the Burmese military, talks that the ruling National League for Democracy has dubbed “The 21st-Century Panglong Conference”, named after the 1947 round of negotiations between Burmese and ethnic leaders that preceded Burma’s independence the following year.
Hla Maung Shwe, secretary of the 21st Century Panglong Preparatory Sub-committee, said: “A delegation of UNFC leaders will arrive in Rangoon around 15-16 July, and we can confirm they will be meeting with the state counsellor. We should know in a couple of days who else will be at the meeting.”
The UNFC has expressed a desire to discuss with Suu Kyi a means to include armed groups that are not signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in the upcoming political dialogue.
The UNFC delegation will be led by Gen. N’Ban La of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), who will be accompanied by members of the ethnic bloc’s Delegation for Political Negotiation (DPN). Their meeting is slated to be held at the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre in Rangoon.
The UNFC previously joined the drafting of the NCA with the Thein Sein-led government but fell short on signing the agreement after the government insisted on excluding certain armed groups – Arakan Army, Kokang-based Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, and Ta’ang Nationalities Liberation Army. Clashes between these groups and government forces are still being reported to date in northern Shan State.
The Suu Kyi government has said that it envisions hosting a 21st-Century Panglong summit no later than the last week of August.
Ethnic armed groups meanwhile are also planning an all-inclusive conference in KIA territory from 26 to 29 July to discuss common goals for the 21st-Century Panglong talks, one of which is certain to be the establishment of a federal union in Burma [Myanmar].