September 2016International NewsAsia

Myanmar Holds First Peace Conference After Ceasefire Agreement

Abby Shamray
Editor in Chief 

A four-day conference in Myanmar commenced on August 31 with the goal of starting a renewed peace process. More than 750 delegates attended, including representatives from the government, the military, political parties, and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs). The New York Times noted that it was the first time so many factions had gathered together in over 70 years.

State Councilor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi organized the conference, referring to it as a “21st century Panglong,” referring to the 1947 conference where her father, Aung San, had helped form modern Myanmar by rallying ethnic leaders. Suu Kyi has also evoked Panglong in her talks with various groups, alluding to the ideas of inclusiveness and unity that her father strived for.

During the first day of the conference, N’ Ban La, the head of the United Nationalities Federal Council, a group of EAO leaders, spoke of why the EAOs had initially taken up arms in the 1960s and why they were joining the peace process now, according to Mizzima. He stated that they hoped Suu Kyi would be able to restore peace with their presence.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke at the end of the first day of the conference, “congratulating all sides on this historic occasion for their patience, endurance, determination and their spirit of compromise that you had demonstrated in support of national reconciliation.”

The conference was a follow-up to the previous government’s securing a partial ceasefire last year. Richard Horsey, commenting on the conference for Nikkei, reported that many armed ethnic groups felt they did not have an option in attending the conference and that the remarkable turnout is not an indicator that there is trust between the government and these groups. Rather, the next few months will decide the fate of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).

The NCA was brokered by the previous administration and signed by eight groups, although nine others refused to sign it. Leaked transcripts of a July 17 meeting between Suu Kyi and UNFC revealed Suu Kyi’s strict view of the NCA. According to Irrawaddy, she told the UNFC that groups that refused to sign would not be given equal status at the conference.

Richard Dolan, writing for The Diplomat, noted that the fact that non-signatories to the NCA would not have equal footing in negotiations posed a threat to the mission of the peace conference, and that it may have an effect opposite to the conference’s purpose of decreasing intra-ethnic conflict.

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