The views of Shan people will not be adequately represented at the upcoming 21st Century Panglong Conference unless a national-level political dialogue is convened ahead of the summit, according to Lieutenant Colonel Sai Ngin, a spokesman for the Restoration Council of Shan State and its armed wing, the Shan State Army-South.
“As there is the rule to discuss with the UPDJC [Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee] in convening the national-level political conference according to nationalities, we talked with the UPDJC and we have formed a supervisory committee for Shan State. We wanted to convene [the dialogue] in Taunggyi. However, the military didn’t allow it to be convened in Taunggyi — they advised us to convene at Mong Pan or Mong Taw/Mong Tha,” Sai Ngin told DVB.
“Transportation for about 500 people to these areas is difficult to arrange. So we sent a letter to Aung San Suu Kyi, who is state counsellor, as well as the UPDJC chairperson, on 29 February and asked permission to convene the national-level political discussion in Taunggyi or Panglong. One month on, there has been no reply,” he added.
“During this time, discussion at the UPDJC secretariat meeting suggested that the government wanted to allow [the national-level dialogue to be hosted in Taunggyi], but not the military. So, there is a problem. We will not do it if it is not allowed in Taunggyi or Panglong. So, Shan people may not meet and we then cannot submit the views of Shan people in the coming 21st Century Panglong Conference.”
Asked about the issue, Zaw Htay, director general of the Office of the State Counsellor, said because the national-level dialogue would be led by the RCSS/SSA, the meetings should take place in Mong Pan or Mong Taw/Mong Tha, territories the Shan ethnic armed group controls.
But Sai Nyunt Lwin, a spokesperson for the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) party, said the dialogue would not be organised solely by the RCSS/SSA, and rather would also involve Shan political and civil society organisations. He said failing to allow Shan organisations to hold the meetings at the location of their choice, in Taunggyi or Panglong, would be “shameful.”
“We cannot do at Mong Taw/Mong Tha. It is not only about the place, it is about the dignity of all Shan people. … We will try to negotiate to have the meeting where the Shan organisations requested. The 21st Century Panglong Conference needs the views and opinions of Shan people.”
A workshop was held in Taunggyi with the RCSS/SSA, Shan political parties, Shan civil society organisations and legal experts on 24 January in preparation for national-level political discussions.
At that workshop, 15 survey groups were formed to collect the opinions of Shan people from 44 townships across Shan, Kachin and Karenni states. These opinions are to be compiled and finalised at the national-level political dialogue.
Dates for the second round of the 21st Century Panglong Conference have not yet been announced, but it is expected to convene sometime in May. The government had initially said it hoped to hold the conference by late February, but that target date was missed.
Shan State has been the scene of fighting between government troops and several ethnic armed groups for years, with the most recent conflict pitting the Burma Army against the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army in the Kokang region along the Sino-Burmese border.