The 21st Century Panglong Conference commenced with great fanfare as leaders from the government, military, ethnic groups, and foreign observers gathered together for the opening ceremony of the conference.
The atmosphere on Wednesday was very cordial as members of different social classes and ethnic groups from a vast cross section of Myanmar’s society, greeted one another like old friends. At times the conference had a carnival-like feel as men and women showed off their ethnic pride by donning their respective traditional outfits.
State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi opened the ceremony with an eighteen-minute speech focused on the National League for Democracy-led government’s commitment towards national reconciliation and noting that it was the responsibility of the people to come together for peace.
Suu Kyi said, “If we all work together for peace we can build federalization.” She went on to say that the “Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement is not only important for peace but for our dreams of building a federal system.”
Towards the end of her speech, Suu Kyi warned that tension between the signatories and the non-signatories on the NCA would delay the peace process.
Suu Kyi’s speech was followed by six other speakers, U Win Myint for the Lower house of Parliament, U Man Win Khaing for the Upper house.
Then Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander in Chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces made his opening remarks by reminding the people that the military has been committed to peace since 2010 when the military began to transfer power to the civilian government and move towards multi-party democracy.
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said, “If the people take up their arms and make revolution, it would be against democracy.”
He continued by saying that the Military supports the peace process and that the Military understood the concerns of the ethnic groups.
“The NCA was drawn up with the request and suggestions of the ethnic groups” and “we will continue based on the NCA,” said Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
He ended his speech by making everyone aware that “If we take our time, we may face tensions or interference by other groups, we need to move forward by a certain time because the people have high expectations of us”.
Mutu Say Po Chairman of the KNU and the Patron of the National league for Democracy U Tin Oo also gave opening speeches.
United Nationalities Federal Council leader N’ Ban La, in his address, spoke about why they (EAOs) took up arms in the 60’s against the government and why they are taking part in the peace process now.
N’Ban La said. “The reason for joining was to encourage Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to bring peace.”
United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-moon closed the morning section with a speech saying he was, “congratulating all sides on this historic occasion for their patience, endurance, determination and their spirit of compromise that you had demonstrated in support of national reconciliation.”
Ban spoke of the long road ahead and mention that all sides must give something if the process was going to succeed. He then said that women should make up at least 30 percent of the dialogue.
Success is in the vital interest of all the people of Myanmar regardless of ethnicity, religion political affiliation or social economic status
The Secretary General ended his speech by saying, “The United Nations will remain your respectful partner as the peace process deepens.” He then tried his hand at Burmese and said, “Let us work together for peace in this great nation.”
After the opening ceremony, the main delegates got together for a group photo. During the photo opportunity the delegates continued to chat amongst themselves like old friends.
As the day continued the participant’s hopes for peace and a better future continued. Mr Katina from Kachin State said: “I hope that they (non-signatories) will sign the Nationwide Ceasefire agreement by the next meeting six months from now.”
The positive atmosphere was also felt by Mathew Arnold, Program director for the Asia Foundation who said: “It was a historical moment and I was pretty impressed there is a lot of good will, you can feel it.”
Despite the festive mood, one could not help but notice the absence of three Ethnic Armed Organizations that has been excluded for 21st Century Panglong Conference. The Ta’ang National Liberation Army, The Arakan Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army are still being shunned from taking part in the peace process that is said to be all inclusive.
Now that day one of the 21st Century Panglong Conference has come to a close, the serious discussions will begin. The key points outstanding are to have a nationwide ceasefire agreement signed by all remaining EAOs and to find a way to bring the three excluded armed groups into the fold in order to have true national reconciliation and move towards federal democracy.