(The following is the full text of the speech delivered by State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Chairperson of the Central Leading Committee for Organizing the Union Peace Conference— 21st Century Panglong at the opening ceremony of the conference.)
May I begin by wishing the honoured guests and delegates present here today at this opening ceremony of the Union Peace Conference—21st Century Panglong, and all those who are with us in spirit, peace of mind and the realisation of all aspirations that will bear wholesome fruit.
This hall is not only filled with guests and delegates who value and cherish peace, it is overflowing with the hopes of friends and well-wishers from across the globe, and the longings and dreams of our people. To fulfill these hopes and to turn these dreams into reality is a huge responsibility. But huge is not to say heavy.
A responsibility that is borne to keep faith with those who loved our country and have departed this world without having known the incomparable joys of peace throughout the land; to affirm our compassion for our people who are today suffering from lack of peace; as evidence of our love for the generations to come who will have to bear the burden of our legacies, both good and bad — such a responsibility can never be too heavy. This is a unique opportunity for us to accomplish a great task that will stand as a landmark throughout our history.
Let us grasp this magnificent opportunity with wisdom, courage, and perseverance, and create a future infused with light. If all those who play a part, however, big or small, in the peace process, cultivate the wisdom to reconcile differing views for the good of the people, the courage to accept ideas and practices that deserve to be accepted, and the perseverance to continue until difficulties are overcome, we will surely be able to build the democratic federal Union of our dreams.
Since its inception it has been the aim of the National League for Democracy to hold political negotiations based on the Panglong spirit and the principle of finding solutions through the guarantee of equal rights, mutual respect and mutual confidence between all ethnic nationalities. The government that emerged after the 2015 elections is determined to uphold these same principles.
The Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) is the first step not only towards peace, but towards the establishment of the long-held hope for a democratic federal Union. Some organisations have already signed the NCA, but there are also those that, for various reasons, have not yet signed. As future political dialogue needs to be based on the NCA, our new government has been making every effort to bring about the participation of the non-signatories. National reconciliation is the concern of all the peoples of our Union.
National reconciliation must include reconciliation among the ethnic armed organisations in our country. Ideological differences between NCA signatories and non-signatories could delay our path to peace. We will strive to bring all under the umbrella of the NCA, which constitutes a common agreement, in order to avert misunderstandings
As the government that emerged following the 2015 general elections, we decided, in accordance with the authority given to us by the electorate, to work towards lasting peace, for which our people have longed throughout the years.
We are embarking on this journey towards peace with full confidence in the people of our Union. So long as we are unable to achieve national reconciliation and national unity, we will never be able to establish a sustainable and durable peaceful Union. Only if we are all united will our country be at peace. Only if our country is at peace will we be able to stand on an equal footing with the other countries in our region and across the world. To achieve our long-overdue peace we must engage in dialogue. We must negotiate. If we are to find solutions at the political negotiating table, we will need a framework that is accepted by all.
When the political dialogue framework was being drafted in accordance with the NCA, we consistently urged for flexibility, keeping in mind the possible changes that might emerge in the political landscape following the elections. From the moment that we as a government began working on the peace process, we negotiated with the NCA signatories over the review of the political dialogue framework. At the same time, we also strived to bring the non-signatories into the framework review process.
We have always believed that to be able to resolve the political problems that lie at the root of our armed conflicts, the most crucial requirement is to work together, with mutual understanding and trust, to seek solutions. The Panglong spirit that enabled us to implement, through unity and cooperation, the hopes of all our people for freedom is equally essential now in the 21st century.
If we are to achieve our shared objective of establishing a democratic federal Union, it is vital that we hold a 21st Century Panglong Conference that will enable all our ethnic peoples to negotiate frankly, openly and on equal terms, as they did at the 20th Century Panglong Conference. This is the vision that has led to our Union Peace Conference. As one of the first priorities of our government, we began preparations for today’s conference on 9th May 2016. We formed a preparatory committee and we established the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre in place of the Myanmar Peace Centre (MPC). I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the previous government led by former President U Thein Sein, which established the MPC and worked for ceasefire. We will continue to build on the previous government’s work towards peace.
We have re-formed the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC) that was established in accordance with the NCA, and I have taken on the role of Chairperson. The UPDJC has since met twice. We have also convened one meeting of the Joint Implementation Coordination Meeting. We have met twice with the leaders of the NCA signatories’ peace process steering team. With regard to the non-signatories, we met the leaders of the UNFC in Yangon, and we met the leaders of the Wa Special Region-2 and Mongla Special Region-4 in Nay Pyi Taw.
Today’s conference was not organised by the government alone. We established a joint committee to enable this conference to be convened in a tripartite format, comprising government, Hluttaw and Tatmadaw as one group; ethnic armed organisations as one group; and political parties as one group. We all negotiated to enable the participation of both NCA signatories and non-signatories. Because we had a great deal of work to do, some suggested that the conference date be delayed. But through everyone working together in a united effort, we have succeeded in holding this conference, which should have been held many, many years ago, here today.
This experience has further strengthened the trust between all involved. Although there have been differences of view, it is because we have all strived to achieve our common goal—a successful 21st Century Panglong Conference—that we are gathered here today. As you all know, our country has suffered from internal armed conflicts for more than half a century-almost 70 years now. Over successive eras there have been attempts, through a variety of means, to end these conflicts. But for many reasons, peace has long remained a distant goal. We must draw lessons from the setbacks of the past, and join together at this time to write a new page in our history.
At this moment, all the people across our country are watching with great trepidation. Ethnic peoples in the areas of our country where there is not yet peace are waiting expectantly for the outcome of this conference. Many of all ages have had to flee their homes to avoid conflict, and it is long since their hopes to one day return have dimmed. They hardly dare to hope any longer. We must not forget their plight.
Today, as a way of resolving political problems through political means, we have started along the path to lasting peace through the 21st Century Panglong Conference. Not only Myanmar, but the whole world, is watching to see how far we can go, and whether we can succeed in achieving lasting peace. Whether we shall be able to fulfill the hopes and dreams of our people depends on all the leaders who are present here today.
Yet peace cannot be achieved without the involvement of all groups in society. Civil society organisations have long played an important and active role in this country, including in our ethnic states. We pay tribute to all those who have strived so hard already to bring about peace and prosperity for all our people across the country. In particular, I am always impressed by the energy and enthusiasm of our young people, many of whom have been showing their support for this Panglong conference in events around the country in recent days.
No peace process can succeed without the support of the people. Peace is not something that leaders impose. It is not something that can be achieved only in a conference room. It requires the active involvement and support of all peoples. The people of this country have demonstrated time and again their unshakeable courage and determination to bring about a better future. I know that they will wish to see their political leaders pursue these difficult peace negotiations ahead with intelligence, courage and empathy. Our efforts are not primarily for the benefit of those in this room today. They are for the benefit of further generations that may live out their lives in peace and security, of body and of mind.
Our future generations must no longer be scarred- physically and mentally-by conflict and by loss. With a durable peace, our country will flourish, our diversity will be cause for celebration, and our people can finally realize their true potential as the children of this Union.
I would like to conclude by expressing my heartfelt thanks to all our people and our friends who have inspired us to pursue the path of peace, however hard. I am convinced that together we will be able to find the right answers that will enable us to make our dreams come true. It has been said that “the dreamer who makes his dream come true is the lord of us all”. To be able to make the dreams of a whole country come true is to become truly the lords of ourselves.
It was the aspiration of the founding fathers of our independent nation to win the right to shape the destiny of our country. Let us proudly exercise this right with a clear vision and strength of purpose, bound in unity and confidence.