Renewed attempts at dialogue . . .
This week, Myanmar wrapped up the fourth iteration of the 21st Century Panglong Conference, a series of negotiations that aim to put an end to the country’s numerous ethnic insurgencies. The ten signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) attended the three-day event, a framework for political dialogue between ethnic armed groups and the government. With only three months left until Myanmar’s national elections, the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD), headed by State Counsellor Aung Sang Suu Kyi, is eager to demonstrate that it has made progress on peace negotiations with ethnic groups. Participants agreed on several issues, including implementing the NCA and guiding principles to building a federal union.
Peace talks without peace . . .
The latest round of peace talks ended with little more than a plan to continue negotiating. While some say modest progress is better than no progress, others say that the absence of any significant breakthrough is worrying and highlights the government’s lack of commitment to ethnic issues. Many groups, such as the Arakan Army, which the government considers a terrorist organization, were not invited to the latest peace negotiations. During the conference, Myanmar’s commander-in-chief claimed that there is “no discrimination” against ethnic minorities in the country – a comment that some ethnic representatives say is not reflective of reality. While talks were taking place, violent clashes continued between the army and Karen and Shan groups. Conflicts in Rakhine State have also escalated dramatically since early 2019.
Ethnic conflict a ticking time bomb . . .
Despite failing to meet the expectations of many ethnic groups, Aung Sang Suu Kyi remains overwhelmingly popular among the country’s Burmese majority. However, the growing disaffection with the NLD has led ethnic parties to merge or form coalitions to secure more rights for their peoples. As attention now turns towards the November elections and battling COVID-19, the government may put the ongoing peace process on the backburner. But the absence of a genuine peace settlement over the long term will continue to plague a country still at war with itself. With ethnic groups’ patience growing thin, violent clashes and secessionist sentiments are unlikely to go abated.
- Crisis Group: Rebooting Myanmar’s stalled peace process
- Frontier Myanmar: What does the Panglong conference mean for the peace process?
- Nikkei Asian Review: Suu Kyi revisits Panglong peace initiative ahead of election