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Second Panglong Conference set to convene 28 February

FILE PHOTO: Ethnic leaders and Burmese government officials attend the opening ceremony of the 21st Century Panglong Conference in Naypyidaw on 31 August 2016. (Photo: Reuters)

The second iteration of the 21st Century Panglong Conference is due to convene on 28 February, it was announced on Monday at a meeting of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC).

President’s Office spokesman Zaw Htay told state media that the date had been agreed by participants of the meeting, though the UPDJC does not include representatives from ethnic armed groups that are not signatories to the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA).

About a dozen non-signatories make up the bulk of the country’s non-state armed forces, including the powerful United Wa State Army and Kachin Independence Army. Non-signatories were able to attend the inaugural 21st Century Panglong Conference in August, but whether they will be allowed to join the second conference — or will choose to do so — later this month remains to be seen.

Since the first conference concluded on 3 September, the security situation in some of the country’s border regions has deteriorated and conflict has escalated. A Burma Army offensive against the KIA saw government troops make key territorial advances in December, and stability is still precarious in northern Shan State, where a combined contingent of ethnic armed groups launched a coordinated assault on police and military installations in November.

The National League for Democracy government inherited concerns about the peace process’s inclusivity when it took power in April. The KIA attended the August-September Panglong Conference, but it has since tied itself to three other ethnic armed groups in a “Northern Alliance” that has clashed with government security forces in northern Shan State several times since the coalition’s initial 20 November attacks. The three other members of the Northern Alliance were shut out of the Panglong Conference last year, as well as peace negotiations under the NLD’s predecessor government.

While Zaw Htay told Frontier Myanmar that it was not yet clear whether NCA non-signatories would attend the 28 February gathering, UPDJC secretary Hla Maung Shwe appeared to level an ultimatum on Monday.

“Conference representatives are to be from those who signed the agreement and they must decide as well,” the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar quoted him as saying. “As the State Counsellor has said, to exert efforts for those who have not signed the agreement yet to sign and take part, the Peace Commission will perform the task to the completion.”