UPDATED at 10:26 A.M. EST on 2016-08-30
The organizing committee for Myanmar's Panglong Conference held a meeting in the capital Naypyidaw on Monday to discuss the final preparations for major negotiations with armed ethnic groups in a bid to end decades of ethnic separatist civil wars.
Leaders from the country’s various ethnic armies have already arrived in the city for the five-day 21st-Century Panglong Conference, also called the Union Peace Conference, which begins on Wednesday.
The members of the Joint Conference Organizing Committee said they were still discussing the possible participation of three groups that began fighting together against government troops last year in the Kokang region of the northern part of Myanmar’s Shan state—the Arakan Army (AA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance party (MNDAA), and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).
But the online journal The Irrawaddy reported on Monday that the Myanmar military has decided to bar the three groups from attending, though they had expressed a readiness to participate, according to Zaw Htay, deputy director-general of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s office.
Because the groups have refused to issue a statement saying they will lay down their arms during talks with the military in the run-up to the conference, the government decided not to invite them, the report said.
Clusters of reps
All members of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of nine ethnic armed groups that did not sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement with the previous government last October, will attend the peace conference in order to participate in political dialogue so it can push for the formation of a federal union in Myanmar.
Aung San Suu Kyi—Myanmar’s de facto prime minister who is spearheading the peace negotiations—military commander-in-chief- Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the two speakers of the national parliament Win Myint and Mahn Win Khaing Than, and United National Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will give speeches at the Panglong Conference.
Nearly 80 speakers from three clusters that include representatives from the government, armed ethnic organizations, political parties and lawmakers, and the government military will also address the gathering of roughly 1,800 attendees.
Two ethnic leaders will be permitted to address the conference, said Sai Kyaw Nyunt, secretary of the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP).
“We have proposed Khun Tun Oo, leader of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) to give a speech as one of the ethnic leaders,” he said. “But if only one ethnic leader can give a speech, it is not sure that [he] will do so.”
New KIA battle
In the meantime, new fighting has erupted between Myanmar government troops and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in northern Myanmar's Kachin and Shan states during an inspection of the Chinese border by government army troops, according to locals.
Some local residents told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the current bout of clashes, which began in late July in Shan state, was started by Chinese-speaking armed groups in one of the KIA’s battalion areas.
The Chinese-speaking troops are not related to the KIA though, said Colonel Nawly of the KIA, who blamed the current bout of hostilities on government troops that began military movements.
“It could have started during the government army’s inspection of the Chinese border at Kanpiketi near border posts No. 5 and 6,” said Zakhone Yein Saung, leader of Kachin Special Region 1.
Representatives from the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the KIA’s political wing, have said they will attend the Panglong Conference.
Reported by Myo Thant Khine and Kyaw Myo Min for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.