Peace has not come easily in Myanmar’s recent history. In 1947, shortly before independence was declared, General Aung Sun lead fruitful but short lived peace negotiations in Panglong. The leaders of Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups signed the agreement, but following the assassination of General Aung Sun shortly after independence, the peace process fell apart. 70 years on, the daughter of General Aung Sun, and now leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, has set about the unenviable task of attempting to again establish peace.
The 21st Century Panglong Conference has just ended, marking a significant change in Myanmar’s peace process. The Government’s hope was for all ethnic armed organisations to sign the national ceasefire agreement, bringing the ongoing civil conflict to an end. 15 of Myanmar’s 20 armed groups attended the event, but only 8 signed the national ceasefire agreement.
In the 70 years between these two summits for peace ethnic armed groups have clashed with the army, also referred to as the Tatmadaw, over the control of their respective territories. In an ever worsening situation, the Tatmadaw continued to launch offensive attacks on these groups, causing mass displacement and accusations of human rights violations against the Tatmadaw.In order for Myanmar’s peace process to be a success, there are four main challenges the country must first overcome.
1. THE 21ST CENTURY PANGLONG CONFERENCE REMAINS A SHADOW OF THE 1947 PANGLONG CONFERENCE
Until 2015, the 21st Panglong Conference was called the Union Peace Conference. It was renamed after the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, took office. Aung San Suu Kyi’s work has been in the shadow of the success of the 1947 Panglong conference and she has been criticized for failing to establish the peace her father once established, however, the task of establishing peace in 2017 is far from easy.
2. THE PEACE PROCESS IS NOT ENTIRELY INCLUSIVE
Three smaller ethnic armed organisations were excluded from the 2015 Panglong Conference because they refused to disarm before the talks. The Government made them “special guests” for the opening of the 2017 Panglong Conference but were excluded from participating in any official negotiations, and met separately with Aung San Suu Kyi. The active exclusion of these groups was not well received and kept other ethnic armed groups from signing the national ceasefire agreement.
3. ETHNIC ARMED GROUPS ALLIANCE ORGANISATIONS ARE REPOSITIONING THEMSELVES
Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups fall into three categories: those who have signed the national ceasefire agreement; those who are considering signing the agreement if it is amended; and those who want to form a new agreement altogether. Some former prominent coalitions are breaking up, and a new alliance is forming. This symbolic repositioning, following the 2017 Panglong Conference, is a significant concern for the Government of Myanmar as more groups are calling for an entirely new national peace agreement.
4. A STRONG CALL FOR CHANGE AMONG POWERFUL ARMED GROUPS
The United Wa State Army, with the newly-formed alliance, is the strongest ethnic armed group in Myanmar. The group has openly rejected Aung San Suu Kyi’s 21st Century way of achieving peace and has called for a new ceasefire agreement. Ethnic armed groups are demanding a clear policy for negotiations, and for those involved to follow the previously agreed framework for political dialogue. A number of groups said informal dialogue would also be necessary to drive the peace agenda forward because formal negotiations have their limits.
Myanmar’s peace process has been challenging since independence, and requires a national effort, especially from the government and armed groups, if any progress is to be achieved. Much needs to be done before the next national peace conference to address these critical challenges, and the Government of Myanmar needs to remain willing to facilitate the process with all ethnic armed organisations to establish peace.
Written by Dalia Majongwe