UN chief to attend Panglong

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s attendance would be a significant achievement. Source: Flickr


United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will attend Myanmar’s huge “Panglong” peace conference next week that seeks to end decades of civil war with the country’s powerful ethnic minority armies.

The deputy director of the President’s Office, Zaw Htay, said Ban had been invited to the much-awaited “21st-century Panglong conference”, as the Union Peace Conference is being called, after he expressed an interest in attending.

It will be Ban’s first visit to the increasingly democratic country since Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy came to power in March. He last visited in November 2014.

Ban’s presence demonstrates the star appeal of Suu Kyi, one of the most people in Asia.

The exiled leader of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Peng Jiasheng, has said that his Kokang militia was supporting Panglong.

“It’s time to change from an out-of-date country to a developed country,” the rebel leader said.

Peng Jiasheng, 85, of China’s Yunnan Province, is accused by Nay Pyi Taw’s military of reigniting fighting in February 2015. The MNDAA, alongside allies the Arakan Army and Ta’ang National Liberation Army, was refused involvement in peace talks table until recently because of ongoing engagements with army.

The Tatmadaw (the military) said the three armed groups had to disarm before being allowed to join the peace process.

Suu Kyi’s flexibility in recent weeks has allowed all three groups to attend.

Political analyst Than Soe Naing said Peng Jiasheng had changed his attitude after pressure from China.

After Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted Suu Kyi last week, the United Wa State Army announced that it was attending Panglong.

Around 700 delegates from the military, government, parliament, political parties, civil society organisations and ethnic groups will talk peace.

Suu Kyi’s father, Japanese wartime ally Aung San, arranged the first Panglong Agreement with the Chin, Kachin and Shan minorities in 1947 to establish a federal state but the deal broke down after the independence leader’s assassination later that year.

Eight rebel armies signed a ceasefire last October under the previous quasi-civilian administration of Thein Sein, but fighting continues in Kachin and Shan states with non-signatories. Other rebel armies are also fighting each other.

It is expected that Panglong will lead to a federal system, with numerous armies and political parties no doubt expecting to be granted different powers from the process.