‘Peace Partners’ Must Be Given Equal Status Ahead of Next 21st Century Panglong Conference
Armed clashes and military aggression by the Myanmar Army against the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and the ethnic Kokang, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) are posing further problems to the upcoming 21st Century Panglong Conference, which has been rescheduled to be held in March 2017. Added to the huge offensives launched by the Myanmar Army on northern ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) in Shan State and Kachin State, it is difficult to view the current state of the peace process with any optimism.
On 14 February, 2017, the Myanmar Army ordered the armed wing of the NMSP, the Mon National Liberation Army (MNLA) to abandon two of its military outposts and also raided a NMSP liaison office. According to the MNLA, this was in retaliation for the military parade conducted by the MNLA on Mon National Day two days previously. Although discussions between the two sides have taken place, the bases have not yet been returned. This is despite the NMSP and the Myanmar Government signing a bilateral ceasefire agreement in 2012, although the NMSP did not sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) in 2015 due to its lack of inclusivity.
Whereas the MNLA incident has thus far ended without violence, the same cannot be said in the Kokang area of Shan State where the Myanmar Army has launched renewed attacks. Speaking about the incident MNDAA officer stated shortly after the attacks; “Clashes are fierce. The Tatmadaw [Myanmar Army] has been using air strikes, artillery fire and so on. Clashes were quite serious both yesterday and today.”
While it is clear that the Myanmar Army is the aggressor in armed conflict in Myanmar, as there has been growing concern that the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led Government is not doing enough to stop this aggression or build trust between the conflicting parties or with respective ethnic political parties or civil society. Kachin civil society and political parties had their first ever Kachin National Conference at Manaw Park in Myitkyina – an event in preparation for the next 21st Century Panglong Conference – blocked by authorities. Only after negotiation could the event go ahead. It was also reported that State Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi knew about and even signed off on the orders for the Myanmar Army’s massive offensive against the Kachin Independence Army, which displaced thousands in late 2016 and early 2017. In January 2017, the Joint Strategy Team, a coalition of local humanitarian organizations working in Kachin areas, reported that 4,000 people living in displaced persons camps were forced to flee again due to airstrike and heavy artillery bombardments by the Myanmar Army.
In the meantime, the United Wa State Army, the largest EAO in Myanmar, is convening a summit to be attended by various EAOs, to discuss the current situation of peace talks while the next 21st Century Panglong Conference is now set to be held in March 2017. Given the uncertainty and lack of trust at this time, it is still unclear which EAOs will attend the 21st Century Panglong Conference.
Military attacks, raiding offices of EAOs, attempting to block civil society efforts to engage in the peace process, and ordering huge offensives against EAOs are just some of the negative developments since the first 21st Century Panglong Conference held in August 2016. It is clear that the Myanmar Army must be reined in, and yet it is also clear that the Myanmar Government must demonstrate political will and do more to respect the aspirations of Myanmar’s ethnic nationalities, such as the initiative taken by ethnic Kachin groups to discuss and make preparations for the peace process, or for the ethnic Mon to celebrate their own national day. The international peace donors who have put millions of dollars as well as political backing into a failing peace process must also take these local efforts and initiatives by ethnic nationalities seriously and support them with both financial and political backing.
Focusing on signing the NCA, rather than solving the structural causes of armed conflict, will only put obstacles in the way of finding a long-term sustainable solution to peace. Furthermore, accepting the government’s propaganda of the labelling of EAOs as ‘terrorists’ and spreading false information runs contrary to the spirit of peacebuilding. As a joint statement by the NCA signatory, Karen National Union and the non-signatory, Kachin Independence Organization, explained, EAOs should be viewed as “peace partners.” This should be the spirit, echoing the Panglong Agreement, that Government negotiators and international peace donors must view EAOs – equal partners in the building of a federal democratic union of Myanmar.
 One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.
Resources from the past week
Statements and Press Releases
APHR: International Investigation Still Needed to Address Alleged Atrocities in Rakhine State
By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
Cox’s Bazar: UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar to visit Bangladesh
By United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner
KNU – ကရင္အမ်ိဳးသားအစည္းအရံုုး ႏွင့္ KIO တိုု႔၏ ပုူးတြဲထုုတ္ျပန္ေၾကညာခ်က္
By Karen National Union and Kachin Independence Organization
Myanmar: Urgent action needed to address deteriorating human rights situation Amnesty International’s written statement to the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council (27 February-24 March 2017)
By Amnesty International
Joint NGO Letter to UN Secretary – General António Guterres about the situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine State
By Amnesty International, Burma Task Force, International Federation for Human Rights, Fortify Rights,
Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, Physicians for Human Rights, Refugees International
& U.S. Campaign for Burma
Giving Birth on the Run: Kachin Flee as Burma Army Attacks
By Free Burma Rangers
War Crimes Continue Unabated in Kachin State. Where is the Outcry?
By Free Burma Rangers
Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”