I would like to first extend my greetings to the esteemed individuals attending this Fourth Session of the Union Peace Conference – 21st Century Panglong, including President U Win Myint and other leaders, government officials, Hluttaw Speakers, leaders of the Defence Services, ethnic armed organizations and political parties, representatives from various organizations, foreign diplomats, international organizations and special guests.
Today is an auspicious day for all the citizens of the nation and for ourselves and a historic day as well. It is because we managed to take important steps towards establishing lasting peace and a Federal Union that we are all wishing for, and that is organizing this Union Peace Conference that is as essential as a blood vessel for the peace process in building a Federal Union. We had to go through numerous processes, negotiations and meetings, compromises and challenges to convene the Fourth Session of the Peace Conference as we are doing right now. I acknowledge that there are numerous individuals and organizations that deserve our gratitude during the 9 years of the peace process.
I wish to record my expression of gratitude to former President U Thein Sein and his cabinet including former Union Minister U Aung Min for leading the formation of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), New Mon State Party Chairman Nai Han Thar for leading the EAOs through the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) to create a draft for the NCA together with NCCT members and the Senior Delegation, the leaders from government, Hluttaw, Tatmadaw, EAOs and political parties for enacting the NCA, UN representatives, foreign diplomats and organizations, Myanmar Peace Centre for their support in the peace process, local organizations and other relevant individuals for their cooperation.
I also wish to honour the Peace Process Steering Team, the current government leaders and Tatmadaw leaders for carrying on with the implementation of the NCA from the previous administration, the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre, and Peace Commission.
The NCA is more than a ceasefire agreement as it will also pave the way for a Federal Union through political dialogue and implementation of those results. There are mechanisms in place for holding political dialogue on one side while monitoring to strengthen the ceasefire agreement on the other side. Making amendments, revisions and revoking to parts of the Constitution and to existing laws based on decisions made at the peace conference, in addition to civilian protection, socio-economic affairs, and military affairs as outlined in the NCA, are also in effect. Making gradual changes to the Constitution as mentioned in the NCA will go in tandem with establishing a Federal Union. There is also making balanced discussions on security matters as the nation changes and develops and to implement them successively. The NCA has a detailed 7-step roadmap for this as well and we need to strictly follow that roadmap as we implement the NCA.
The Union Peace Conference normally has to convene once every 6 months but we were unable to do so due to various reasons. This was a great loss to the peace process. We only managed to hold the peace conference 3 times in the past 3 years but we reached 51 points of agreement. But we should have been able to create something more comprehensive. We managed to resolve the distrust, suspicions, extra vigilance, unyielding principles, and different methods employed but we could achieve enough compromise to create more content for the Union Accord. We need to keep these lessons and experiences to heart as we move forward.
The Union of Myanmar achieved peace after the Panglong Agreement was signed between the various leaders back on 12 February 1947 but because we could not resolve our political issues with political dialogue, we ended up with armed conflicts that kept Myanmar far behind in the developing world. U Thein Sein officially announced on 18 August 2011 the invitation to resolve our political issues through political dialogue and opened the way to peaceful discussion. He left a new culture of politics that has become a prominent mark in history.
The current government administration led by the National League for Democracy is equally working hard in the peace process. They managed to persuade the New Mon State Party and Lahu Democratic Union to sign the NCA while still endeavouring to bring in the remaining EAOs that have not signed the NCA. This is good news and good effort. After the third session of Union Peace Conference in 2018 it was not convened for 2 years as there were negotiations on security matters and basic federal principles and some weaknesses in building trust on each other.
The guidance and management set by the 8th Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting (JICM) helped the government and the NCA-signatories to hold negotiations over the course of 8 months, with 8 official meetings and informal meetings, to create the third part of the Union Accord that will be submitted to the Union Peace Conference. I would like to express my gratitude to the coordinating bodies of both sides that took the time and effort to continuously organize meetings to reach fair and acceptable results for everyone. I wish to record my acknowledgment of the hard work of these coordinating bodies. I am filled with enthusiasm that Part III of the Union Accord involves the framework agreement for implementing the NCA, progressive implementation steps beyond 2020, and basic federal principles. I also heard they agreed to continue discussions on the topics that have not reached a mutual agreement yet. Some matters need more time for discussion.
For post-2020, we need to thoroughly negotiate for implementation of peace process in order to reach agreements. The important tasks are to consider how we will ensure implementation in accordance with the three steps of political plan and the three steps of security plan by linking the plans to the development of political situations. We need clear and exact prior agreements on the tasks. Then, the implementation of the process will be smooth. We need to have all-inclusive policy to plan for inclusion of non-signatories ethnic armed organizations of NCA in the peace process and various levels of political talks for post-2020. Moreover, I would like to urge all to take into account the roles of community-based organizations and social-based organizations. As we, both sides, have already signed the NCA, so we must strictly abide by the provisions of the NCA. Despite difficulties in implementation of the process, we must continue our march towards our goal, which is to build a Federal Union, through the NCA route.
There will be problems, difficulties and obstacles in implementation of the NCA. However, we jointly own the NCA, so we must jointly try to overcome the obstacles. If it achieves success, we must share the fruits of success. All of us must be accountable for the results, whether they are good or bad.
Moreover, I would like to express thanks to the government and the Ministry of Health and Sports for arranging required medical examinations and taking necessary measures for prevention, control and treatment of COVID-19 in order that the conference can be convened successfully despite the COVID-19 crisis.
In conclusion, as mentioned in the NCA “in order to achieve lasting and sustainable peace in this country, we, the signatories to this Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, pledge to each other to diligently work together to implement all provisions included in this agreement completely, successfully and without fail in an accountable, responsible and transparent manner”, I would like to urge all groups to collaboratively work so that political talks, including the Union Peace Conference– 21st Century Panglong, can be held regularly in order to build a Union based on democracy and federal system that assures democracy, national equality and the rights of self-determination, in accordance with the results of the political talks.
(Translated by Zaw Htet Oo, Maung Maung Swe)