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The eight armed groups that are signatories to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) have urged the Burmese government to facilitate “national-level political discussions” in Shan and Arakan states to allow the voices of those two major ethnic groups to be heard at the upcoming Union Peace Conference.
The announcement came after talks on 13-14 May in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, between representatives of the eight ceasefire groups, including the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), Karen National Union (KNU), Pa-O National Liberation Organisation (PNLO), Chin National Front (CNF), Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) and the All-Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF).
The armed groups said their representatives had met to discuss matters ahead of the peace talks, dubbed the 21st Century Panglong Conference (21CPC), scheduled to begin in Naypyidaw on 24 May.
The eight groups stressed that “national-level political discussions,” drawing in the agendas of the various ethnic groups, had not yet taken place in either Shan or Arakan State, indicating a lack of representation for those groups at next week’s 21CPC.
The national-level discussion for the Arakanese had been delayed due to delicate issues concerning communal and religious tensions. A forum has also failed to materialise in Shan State due to disputes between the Burmese military and key Shan participants.
Among the disagreements was setting a venue for talks – the Burmese military suggested a meeting be held in southern Shan State’s Mongpan Township while Shan delegates declined, insisting the discussions take place in state capital Taunggyi.
One of the attendees at the Chiang Mai talks this week was Sai Lian, a leading member of the RCSS’s Peace Making Committee. He told DVB that the eight armed groups were sending a letter to the Burmese government, calling for national-level talks for Shan and Arakanese participants.
“Our meeting mainly focused on getting everyone on board for the Union Peace Conference – we decided to send a letter to the government, signed by all eight groups, asking it to facilitate national-level talks for Arakanese and Shan ethnic people so that we can have their voices heard at the conference,” said Sai Lian.
The weekend meeting in Thailand between NCA signatories was attended by notable ethnic leaders, including Yawd Serk of the RCSS; Mutu Say Poe representing the KNU; the CNF’s Salai Lian Hmung Sakhong; ALP chairman Khin Soe Aung; PNLO commander Khun Okkar; and the ABSDF’s Yebaw Thankhe.