It is unlikely that the Burmese government will agree to a request by seven ethnic armed groups to be represented as a coalition at this week’s Union Peace Conference, according to a senior Chin official, effectively meaning that the seven do not attend the talks.
The seven armed groups – informally dubbed the Panghsang Allies –issued a statement on 17 May in which they expressed a desire to attend the Union Peace Conference, but only on condition that they were represented by a joint committee — which they had duly formed, named the Union Political Negotiation Dialogue Committee (UPNDC).
“It seems unlikely that the government will agree to it,” said Dr. Sui Khar, the joint general-secretary of the Chin National Front (CNF). “As far as I know, the government is not going to allow them to be represented as an alliance or coalition. It believes no progress can be made if it does so.
“But Naypyidaw should respond with a gesture of some kind – perhaps by addressing invitations directly to the individuals it wants to attend.”
The seven groups – none of whom has signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) – formed their committee after a 15–19 April meeting held in Panghsang, the headquarters of the Wa army. The seven ethnic rebel groups are: United Wa Solidarity Army (UWSA); Kachin Independence Army (KIA); Arakan Army (AA); Ta-ang National Liberation Front (TNLA); Shan State Army- North (SSA-N); Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA- Kokang group); and National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA- Mongla group).
The allies have demanded that the peace talks, informally dubbed the 21st Century Panglong Conference (21CPC), do not exclude any group, whatever its ethnicity or political affiliation.
“The government should consider the request of the seven armed groups to be represented as a single committee,” said political analyst Than Soe Naing. “That would probably be considered a constructive gesture.”
He continued: “The [Panghsang Allies] could therefore participate in discussions and decision-making, regardless of whether they have signed the NCA or not.
“However, having made their stance clear, I do not think that they [Panghsang Allies] will attend the conference if they are only categorised as ‘observers’ or ‘guests’. Without their participation, this second round of the 21CPC will have missing elements. It will be weak. The Peace Commission should take this into consideration,” said Than Soe Naing.
The 17 May statement issued by the seven Panghsang Allies called for immediate talks between the UPNDC, the government and the Burmese military. It also called for an end to warfare between ethnic armed groups and Burmese government forces in northern Burma.
Dr. Sui Khar of the CNF, which is one of eight groups that signed the NCA in 2015, added: “If the government and Tatmadaw [Burmese military] have talks with the UPNDC, it will yield results.”