CRUCIAL POINTS TO PONDER: How would the 21st Century Panglong pan out?

As May 24, the convening of Union Peace Conference - 21st Century Panglong (UPC-21CP) is scheduled to take off, few crucial and essential topics that are related to the understanding of the peace negotiation process need to be bundled together so that we could have a bird's eye view of the whole peace process situation.

In this respect, the BBC's report of May 21, titled “What one should know regarding Panglong convention”, has captured almost all the important headings, in this writer's opinion. 

It touches upon the topics of: Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) or Pangkham (peace initiative); 5 Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs) that were rumored to sign (the NCA); agreement in principle [of the United Nationalities federal Council (UNFC) 9-point NCA amendment proposal]; Pangkham alliance; and formation of north and south (military) blocs among the EAOs.

The following is an observation based on the topics, which hopefully would shed some critical light to the prevailing political landscape.

Firstly, there is now a new game plan initiated by the Pangkham alliance group involving 7 EAOs that rejects the government's NCA-based game plan. Thus, the government's only game in town for some five years is now being contested by the Pangkham alliance new approach.

The Pangkham-led 7 EAOs military-political alliance includes the United Wa State Party/Army (UWSP/UWSA), United League of Arakan/Arakan Army (ULA/AA), Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/KIA), Palaung State Liberation Front/Ta’ang National Liberation Army (PSLF/TNLA), Myanmar National Truth and Justice Party/Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNTJP/MNDAA), Peace and Solidarity Committee/National Democratic Alliance Army (PSC/NDAA) and Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA).

Pangkham insisted that the NCA-based peace process is not working, as it is unable to stop the war in Kachin and Shan States in the first place, besides being a process aimed at replacing the Panglong Agreement of 1947, which the alliance considers to be their historical-political legacy vested with rights of self-determination, equality and democracy and also the sole legal bond, to form a new political entity called the Union of Burma, between the ethnic nationalities and the Bamar state prior to the independence from the British in 1948.

Other than that it also accused the NCA-based process to be like the 1993 Nyaung Hnapin national convention, which was dominated by the Military or Tatmadaw and stage-managed to formulate and promulgate its self-drawn, 2008 constitution that didn't cater in anyway to the ethnic nationalities' political aspirations.

Thus, the Pangkham alliance consideration is to end the war in the north of the country first, followed by political negotiation and eventual political settlement.

Secondly, the 5 EAOs – New Mon State Party (NMSP), Karenni National Progress Party (KNPP), Wa National Organization (WNO), Lahu Democratic Union (LDU) and Arakan National Council (ANC) - that were rumored would sign the NCA and reportedly being constantly wooed by the government doesn't seem to be making headway, as almost all of them insisted upon the government's accommodation of the UNFC's 9-point proposal to amend the NCA, and only after which it would sign the NCA as preferred by the government. But the problem has been the inability of the government to say black or white on the proposal. Leaving it pending for further discussion in the future, and only came up with the in-between solution for UNFC members to sign the Deeds of Commitment (DoC) that they would definitely ink the NCA at a later date, which in turn would qualify them for participation in the UPC-21CP.

Thus, it is highly unlikely that the UNFC would take part in the conference, as most have said that they would attend the conference as a group with full conference participant rights and not merely as observers.

Thirdly, the so-called government's agreement in principle of the UNFC's 9-point proposal to alter the NCA isn't leading to any concrete agreement, as it is not committing to it in any concrete term and just prefers to let the UNFC sign the DoC by all means, pending further discussion of the UNFC's proposal.

While some of the UNFC members might be willing to see this agreement in principle in a positive light, General Gun Maw of the KIO said that the government, in fact, just only agreed to the point number 8, which said: “Developmental projects to be tackled according to Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), in cooperation with the public and the EAOs” and nothing more.

The crucial nationwide ceasefire announcement of the Tatmadaw and agreement of the tripartite negotiation composition of the proposal were not agreed upon, he stressed.

Fourthly, the Pangkham alliance that is made up of 7 EAOs. But the SSPP and KIO are also members of the UNFC and while the latter has tendered the resignation from the UNFC, the former said that it is still with it. Thus, the position of the SSPP is not at all clear at the moment.

Finally, there seems to be a formation of a north and south military blocs among the EAOs, with Pangkham alliance depicted as northern bloc engaging militarily with the government's troops, although for the moment the UWSA and NDAA are still not taking part actively yet in the conflict, the situation could easily change if the military conflict would become widespread. The northern bloc is the most heavily armed and make up of more than three-fourths of the whole EAOs' fighting force, estimated to field some 64,000 troopers, according to the “Deciphering Myanmar’s Peace Process: A Reference Guide 2016” report publication of Burma News International, January 2017.

The combined 21 EAOs troops, when added together is 81,700.

The Pangkham alliance members UWSA has some 30,000; the KIA 12,000; SSPP 8000; TNLA 6000; NDAA 3000; MNDAA 2000; and AA 3000; totaling 64,000 or 78% of the whole EAOs' fighting force.

The southern bloc is made up of mainly the Karen National Union (KNU) that has 5000 troops, while some small EAOs barely field a few hundreds.


Given such political development, with the participation of the Pangkham alliance highly unlikely as the latest invitation list excluded the MNDAA, TNLA and AA, which are members of the alliance. Reportedly, the government has only invited 9 out of the 13 EAOs that have still not signed the NCA.

The other excluded only EAO is the National Socialist Council of Nagaland – Khaplang (NSCN-K).

So this would mean the 78% of the EAOs troopers would be outside the fold of peace process, indicating that in addition to just being a partial ceasefire gathering in Nay Pyi Taw on May 24, achievable peace is still a far away illusion, much less the national reconciliation which is supposed to be the aim of the UPC-21CP.

Topping this disappointment is the heightened Tatmadaw's offensives in northern Shan State, while the peace conference preparation is in high gear.

One could only feel sorry for the lack of positive initiative from the government's part saying that the invitation to the UPC-21CP is the responsibility of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC), which is made up of a tripartite group of government (including parliament and military); 8 EAOs; and political parties with 16 members each, according to Zaw Htay, the director general of the State Counselor's Office.

He stressed to the RFA in a recent interview of May 18, that “the government is responsible only for the invitation of some 900 representatives and guests to the opening ceremony and closing dinner and the invitation to attend the UPC-21CP is solely the duty of the UPDJC, where the State Counselor is also the Chairperson.”

But questions come to mind, why would the 8 EAOs and political parties would like to exclude the said three EAOs from participating in the conference? The answer naturally would come up as either the 8 EAOs and political parties are compromised or forced to follow the Tatmadaw's line of thinking, which all know that it harbors animosity to the three excluded group from the outset and has been against it participation regardless of the tireless Chinese mediation and insistence of the Pangkham alliance that it would only negotiate as a group, according its repeated statements.

In short, the recent prevailing inconclusive political development doesn't really look promising for the UPC-21CP convention, especially to the disappointment of those longing to see the achievement of peace and reconciliation in our country.


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