Myanmar Peace Conference Ends With Participants Praising ‘Meaningful’ Principles, Post-Election Plan

The Irrawaddy (21 August 2020)
The fourth session of Myanmar’s peace conference came to an end on Friday with representatives of the government, military, ethnic armed organizations and political parties agreeing on principles and a plan to move the country’s stalled peace process forward under a new government beyond 2020. The 20 agreed principles focus on solving misunderstandings surrounding the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) and its implementation, and laying out guiding principles for what kind of union Myanmar wants. Also agreed was a plan that lays out a step-by-step process for implementing a democratic federal union-building process after 2020. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi dubbed it “a new plan for building a democratic federal union beyond 2020” in her closing remarks.
With November’s general election a mere three months away, the three-day event was the last session of the Union Peace Conference to be held under the current government led by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD). Because of the election, government negotiators and the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) that are signatories to the NCA had pushed for setting guiding principles for the continuation of the peace-building process under the new government next year. Currently, eight militarily active ethnic armed organizations (EAOs), most of them based in the north of the country, are still at the stage of negotiating bilateral ceasefires and are not part of the NCA process. The government’s designation of the Arakan Army as a terrorist group this March has affected the negotiation process, however, with the groups boycotting this week’s Union Peace Conference (UPC), although they cited COVID-19 as the reason. Sai Laeng, the leading member of the Peace-making Committee of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), told The Irrawaddy that the agreements reached on Friday “make sense”, because the latest session of the conference made it possible to fix a number of misunderstandings with the NCA, among other things. The RCSS is an NCA signatory, but as recently as last month it clashed with government troops in Kyaukme Township, Shan State. “It is meaningful to agree on how to build a federal union beyond 2020. We also agreed on some guiding principles of building the federal union, such as power sharing between Union and States,” he said. Some of the principles signed guarantee that the building of a democratic federal union will be based on political dialogue. They also ensure equal rights without discrimination based on race, religion, culture or gender. One of the 15 principles of the framework for the NCA implementation is that all citizens shall collectively build a union reflecting “union identity”, which respects and recognizes the histories, traditions, literatures, cultures and identities of the various nationalities residing in Myanmar. In a note, “union identity” is defined as having a single union possessing unity and solidarity. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said the note was significant. “We must prioritize implementing this collective union identity in the period beyond 2020,” she said. The fourth 21st-Century Panglong Union Peace Conference came at a time when peace negotiations were bogged down, following a stalemate in late 2018 when the Karen National Union and RCSS decided to postpone participation in political dialogue and ceasefire monitoring talks, saying implementation of the NCA had drifted from the original plan and that some of its terms needed further clarification. On Friday, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi urged stakeholders to stay on the peace negotiation path, saying the peace process was now back on track and the principles signed were “more sincere and have more substance” than before. Like the State Counselor, Lieutenant General Yar Pyae, the military delegate to the peace conference, who is also the chairman of the Joint Monitoring Committee on the nationwide ceasefire, said the negotiations needed to keep going. “Now we can draw a conclusion that countless negotiations have reduced the mistrust that has been deep-rooted on both sides,” he said. Therefore, he added, stakeholders “should not leave the negotiation table, whatever the reason.”