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Coalition of ethnic armed groups ready to join Panglong summit, awaits invite

State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi gives a speech at the opening ceremony of 21st Century Panglong conference in Naypyidaw on 24 May 2017. (Photo: Reuters)

The Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee (FPNCC) released a statement on Wednesday reiterating the ethnic armed coalition’s intention to join the upcoming third iteration of the government-led 21st Century Panglong Conference, if the bloc is officially invited to do so.

A committee meeting of the FPNCC was held from 26-28 March in Panghsang, capital of the Wa self-administered zone in northern Shan State. Twenty-seven representatives from the seven ethnic armed groups that make up the grouping were present at the meeting, and a statement was released upon its conclusion.

It reads: “During the meeting, the attitudes toward joining the third session of the 21st Century Panglong Conference were thoroughly discussed. If the FPNCC is officially invited, all member groups of the FPNCC will attend the conference.”

The statement also referenced the transnational nature of efforts to bring an end to decades of civil war, stressing that China’s role in negotiations “has grown more important and is inextricably linked to Myanmar’s peace process.” Multiple FPNCC member groups have ties to China.

Wednesday’s statement further reads: “The FPNCC strongly condemns the Myanmar Army offensives in Kachin, Ta’ang, Kokang and Rakhine regions and requests the latter to resolve ethnic conflicts in terms of political dialogue only.”

The ethnic bloc’s statement concluded by welcoming the election of President-elect Win Myint, who was voted into office on Wednesday.

The FPNCC is led by the 20,000-strong United Wa State Army — which hosted this week’s meeting at its Panghsang headquarters — alongside the Shan State Progress Party; the National Democratic Alliance Army; the Ta’ang National Liberation Army; the Arakan Army; the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army; and the Kachin Independence Army.

The FPNCC was formed in April 2017, comprised of the abovementioned ethnic armed groups, none of whom has signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). Several of the ethnic armies continue to clash with Burmese government forces in the country’s north and northeast, and one unifying element of the FPNCC coalition was its rejection of the NCA as the framework serving as the basis of peace negotiations.

Wednesday’s statement made no mention of the NCA.

The accord is the lynchpin of the 21st Century Panglong Conference and full participation in the high-level summit is contingent upon signatory status. Ten non-state armed groups have signed the NCA, but to date most of the country’s ethnic armies have abstained or been denied the opportunity to accede to it.

Beset by delays, the third iteration of Panglong is now tentatively scheduled to convene sometime in May.