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

Understanding China’s Response to the Rakhine Crisis

Understanding China’s Response to the Rakhine Crisis

Thursday, February 8, 2018

By: Adrienne Joy

Following attacks on police posts by an armed Rohingya militia in August 2017, reprisals by the Burmese government have precipitated a humanitarian crisis. More than six hundred thousand Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, where they face an uncertain future. Publicly stating that the root cause of conflict in Rakhine is...

Global Policy

Ambassador Bill Taylor on the Escalation of Conflict in Ukraine

Ambassador Bill Taylor on the Escalation of Conflict in Ukraine

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

By: William B. Taylor

Ambassador William Taylor updates us on Ukraine’s efforts to upgrade its military with U.S. assistance to defend eastern Ukraine from Russian-led militias. Taylor weighs in on U.S. efforts to find a diplomatic solution to ease Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine, the effect of U.S. and European sanctions on Putin, and the recognition of the U.S. National Defense and National Security Strategies that Russia is a top threat.

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

Reframing the Crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

Reframing the Crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

Monday, January 22, 2018

By: Gabrielle Aron

In the aftermath of attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and subsequent military clearance operations, two competing narratives have emerged. One frames the attacks as a critical threat to national security and the majority cultural-religious status quo. The second focuses on the human cost...

Global Policy; Human Rights

As Vice President Pence Visits the Middle East, Hopes for Diplomacy Languish

As Vice President Pence Visits the Middle East, Hopes for Diplomacy Languish

Friday, January 19, 2018

By: Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen

Vice President Mike Pence heads to Egypt, Jordan and Israel with little diplomatic quiet, and even less hope, on the Israeli-Palestinian front. President Abbas has declared the Oslo peace process dead, and the U.S. mediating role over, President Trump has broken with international consensus on Jerusalem, and pointedly not endorsed a two-state solution since coming to office, and Prime Minister Netanyahu has now hedged on his commitment to the end goal of a Palestinian state.

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

View All Publications