Non-signatories invited to join Panglong Conference, says govt

NAY PYI TAW — All non-state armed groups will be invited to the 21st Century Panglong Conference in late August regardless of whether they participated in last year’s so-called Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, the government confirmed on Tuesday.

“It was approved that all ethnic armed groups, whether NCA signatories or non-signatories, will be allowed to take part,” said U Hla Maung Shwe, secretary of the conference’s preparatory committee, following a meeting in Nay Pyi Taw.

Officials also confirmed on Tuesday that State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will personally head the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre the successor organisation to the previous government’s Myanmar Peace Centre.

President’s Office spokesman U Zaw Htay told reporters on Tuesday that the peace process and other matters of “national reconciliation”, such as ethnic tensions in Rakhine State, would be handled by the body.

The NRPC will be composed of government, parliamentary and military representatives and will be solely responsible for administering international donor funds for the peace process.

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A meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and the United Nationalities Federal Council, a body composed of non-signatories to last year’s agreement, is expected to be held in Yangon soon.

Zaw Htay, who is also acting as a government representative for the peace conference’s preparatory committee, said the government was “working very hard to be inclusive”, with plans to invite representatives from the Arakan Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and Ta’ang National Liberation Army.

The previous government had excluded all three armed groups from last year’s ceasefire negotiations, following an attempt by the MNDAA to regain control of the Kokang town of Laukkai in February 2015 with the support of the Arakan Army and the TNLA.

The military had previously signalled its opposition to including the three groups in upcoming peace talks, a stance that appears to have softened recently.

It remains to be seen whether the three groups will agree to participate in the conference, along with several other non-signatories such as the Kachin Independence Army.

Groups that did not sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement are planning to meet with signatories at the KIA stronghold of Mai Ja Yang, Kachin State in the second week of August.

Zaw Htay said that Aung San Suu Kyi wanted to see the upcoming peace conference staged as soon as possible.

“The state counsellor wants to hold the Union Peace Conference before the end of August,” he said. “She does not want to prolong or procrastinate.”

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