The second round of Burma’s high-level political dialogue, part of an ongoing peace process that seeks to resolve one of the world’s longest running civil conflicts, produced some movement by the time it wrapped this week, even as leaders on all sides struggle with some of the most contentious questions.

A Kachin Independence Army soldier travels across a bridge to the front lines between Laiza and Maija Yang in Myanmar, Jan. 9, 2012.
A Kachin Independence Army soldier travels across a bridge to the front lines between Laiza and Maija Yang in Myanmar, Jan. 9, 2012. KIA is not a NCA signatory, but joined Panglong as special guests. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times/ Adam Dean

The dialogue resumed last week for its second round, drawing more than 1,000 participants to the capital, Naypyidaw. The dialogue, the 21st Century Panglong Union Peace Conference, seeks to evoke the historic 1947 Panglong conference and is mandated by the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) signed in October 2015. It is expected to continue for several years, culminating in an accord that describes and cements a new federal structure of the state that will be adopted as constitutional reforms. At least, that’s the hope.

Last week’s dialogue began with a surprise: some of the most powerful ethnic armed groups—including many that are engaged in heavy fighting with the government—attended the opening of the meeting. This was the result of last-minute lobbying by China, as well as compromise on both sides. The Myanmar Army had never been willing to invite three of the groups to this forum, regarding them as newcomers and belligerents. On the other side, the powerful United Wa State Army and its allies have thus far rejected the process’ link to the NCA, saying that they have an existing ceasefire and that a new path to peace is needed.

Unfortunately, only those eight armed groups that had signed the NCA were able to participate fully, while the others, “special guests,” were allowed to submit papers but not to speak. Ultimately, they did not officially submit papers to the dialogue either. In addition, the role of women and civil society organizations remained limited at this meeting. And finally, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) – a key alliance of ethnic armed groups– refused to attend at all.

Dialogue participants reviewed 41 points in five sectors (political, economic, social, natural resources and security) that had emerged from six lower-level dialogues held over the past five months in different locations around the country. However, the points that were brought to the table were only those agreed by a joint committee beforehand; other points raised at the lower-level dialogues were left out. In addition, several of the ethnic groups felt that there had been insufficient opportunity to have pre-Panglong dialogue meetings to bring their concerns to the table.

The security sector working committee hit a deadlock on the second day of the conference on the issue of a “single military unit in the state.” Questions of the future size, role and composition of the military, and the eventual fate of the ethnic armed groups still seem too difficult to tackle. Some of the more difficult points in the political sector, including language on “non-secession” from the state of Burma, equality and state constitutions also were left out.

The dialogue resulted in some trust-building, given the attendance of groups that rarely speak with the government. Government and NCA signatories signed a 37-point accord that covers four of the five sectors. Pessimistically, the document might be seen as a lowest-common-denominator agreement that doesn’t bode well for future frank dialogue with long-term policy impacts; optimists are more likely to see it as a good start for future discussions.

Related Publications

Burma’s Big Test: Preventing Election Violence in 2020

Burma’s Big Test: Preventing Election Violence in 2020

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

By: Jonas Claes

The people of Burma will head to the polls in late 2020 to elect more than 1,100 representatives to national, state, and regional legislative bodies. During a recent field assessment, the U.S. Institute of Peace confirmed that the risk of election-related violence is surprisingly low considering the ongoing conflicts and multitude of grievances. However, hate speech, disinformation, and intense competition between parties could create violent incidents, particularly during the campaign period. Early efforts to promote peaceful elections need to start now as the window for effective prevention will soon be closed.

Electoral Violence

The United Wa State Army and Burma’s Peace Process

The United Wa State Army and Burma’s Peace Process

Monday, April 29, 2019

By: Bertil Lintner

The United Wa State Army, a force of some twenty-thousand fighters, is the largest of Burma’s ethnic armed organizations. It is also the best equipped, boasting modern and sophisticated Chinese weaponry, and operates a formidable drug empire in the Golden Triangle region. This report examines the history of the Wa people, the United Wa State Army’s long-standing political and military ties to China, and the Wa’s role in Burma’s fragile peace process.

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Peace Processes

Myanmar’s 2020 Elections and Conflict Dynamics

Myanmar’s 2020 Elections and Conflict Dynamics

Monday, April 15, 2019

By: Mary Callahan; Myo Zaw Oo

In late 2020, Myanmar will hold a general election for more than a thousand seats in Union, state, and regional legislative bodies. The next year and a half will also see two high-level, conflict-laden processes capture domestic and international attention—the 21st Century Panglong peace conference and possible attempts to repatriate Rohingya refugees. This report evaluates the environment in which the peace process, Rohingya repatriation, and the election intersect and identifies opportunities for mitigating conflict in the run-up to the election.

Electoral Violence; Democracy & Governance; Peace Processes

The Conflict Resource Economy and Pathways to Peace in Burma

The Conflict Resource Economy and Pathways to Peace in Burma

Monday, November 19, 2018

By: Kevin M. Woods

Burma’s natural resource economy is inextricably tied to the ongoing armed conflict within the country. Questions of who has what ownership rights over what resources and how these resources can be more equitably shared with the wider population loom large. This report focuses on Burma’s resource-rich ethnic states and territories near the borders with China and Thailand and suggests that a more robust, accountable, and equitable system for managing the country’s resource wealth can help lay down the pathways to peace.

Economics & Environment

View All Publications