Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during the Panglong Peace Talk with ethnic representatives to mark 70th anniversary of Myanmar Union Day in Panglong town, Southern Shan State, Myanmar on February 12, 2017. Myanmar is scheduled to hold its second 21st century Panglong peace meeting with ethnic armed groups at the end of February although on going fighting in Kachin State and northern Shan State. (AUNG HTET / AFP)

Myanmar’s Elusive Dream of Peace

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Myanmar’s second Union Peace Conference has ended with no agreement on the issues of non-secession and the unified federal army. This is not surprising. There is a lack of a proper framework for political dialogue and the civilian government is perceived to be weak.

The second Union Peace Conference, popularly referred to as 21st Century Panglong, concluded on 29 May 2017 with no agreement on non- secession and unified federal army issues . In her opening speech, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi talked about “turning the dreams so long cherished by our people into reality”. But at the end of the conference, these dreams seem still elusive.

This should not be a surprise. Although more inclusive than the 2015 nationwide peace conference, the NLD-led Union Peace Conferences face a challenge in bringing existing, remaining and potential ceasefire signatories to the table. The first Union Peace Conference in August-September 2016 saw divided views among the Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) regarding the participation of three EAOs fighting government forces in Northen Myanmar. The May 2017 conference now sees a newcomer, the Northen Alliance led by the United Wa State Army. There are calls for a new ceasefire agreement and political dialogue. The Wa attended only the opening session, stating that they did so at China’s behest.

To the NLD government’s credit, the second Union Peace Conference has concluded with some agreements on a future federal system.

There are two reasons behind the current deadlock. First is the lack of a proper framework for political dialogue. According to the 2015 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), a peace conference was to be held only after all signatories had agreed on such a framework. The NCA was signed by only eight of the sixteen EAOs in October 2015. Instead of trying to get all EAOs to agree on the NCA draft, former President Thein Sein had focused on getting it signed at a nationwide conference, to show results in an election year. Daw Suu, leading the Union Peace Conference process starting 2016, has held two more nationwide conferences to persuade all EAOs to the table. Without the framework for political dialogue, this may not happen, even as the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee strives to reach agreement on this.

Second, with Myanmar now under a civilian-led government, the EAOs feel emboldened to put forward radical demands, under the mistaken assumption that the military’s role and influence in the peace process is diminishing. Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has warned that the basic concepts of some ethnic groups go beyond the federal system and that the Armed Forces will uphold its constitutional responsibility against any organization violating constitutional provisions, especially those related to disintegration of the Union.
To the NLD government’s credit, the second Union Peace Conference has concluded with some agreements on a future federal system. But 80 per cent of the EAOs’ armed strength in Myanmar are still outside the current process. Bringing them into the process will be a key to realizing the Daw Suu’s vision for everlasting peace.