Fighting persists despite Panglong

The Karen Nation Union troops. Source: Wikimedia

Extensive fighting has continued with groups in the north of Myanmar despite Aung San Suu Kyi’s landmark peace conference in Nay Pyi Taw.

The Union Peace Conference or the 21st-century Panglong conference, as it is commonly known, involved the National League for Democracy’s first attempt to establish peace throughout the war-ravaged union.

But not all fighting groups were included in the negotiations, with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Arakan Army and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army barred from taking part in peace negotiations for refusing to issue a public commitment to disarm.

The well-armed United Wa State Army, which controls a self-governing drugs empire along the Chinese border, also left on the second day because its delegates said they were denied the right to address the gathering.

In response to the government’s pledge last week that the peace conference would be all-inclusive, the three aggressive groups issued a joint statement expressing their willingness to attend Panglong and negotiate an end to the fighting, but that they were unwilling to agree to an unconditional surrender without guarantees.

State Counsellor Suu Kyi concluded her highly anticipated summit with the powerful ethnic armed groups on Saturday, calling it a first step on a tough road to peace.

The conference was Suu Kyi’s first big drive to end the rebellions that began soon after independence from British colonial rule in 1947.

No resolution emerged from the conference, with another event planned within six months. Representatives from about 17 rebel groups and political parties presented papers and outlined their political aspirations. Most speakers called for changes to the 2008 military-drafted constitution to relax the capital’s grip and establish a federation. The military, however, largely stressed the importance of abiding by the blueprint laid out in last October’s national ceasefire agreement with eight of the rebel armies.

“To achieve peace is very difficult,” Suu Kyi said during her closing remarks. “This is the first meeting. After this, there will be more meetings. And there are many things we have to do during the time in between.”

The conflicts are complicated by the drugs trade, gem mining and illegal rebel-held areas.