Following is an unofficial translation of a speech delivered by National Peace and Reconciliation Centre Chairperson State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at the opening ceremony of the Third Session of Union Peace Conference-21st Century Panglong:
Officials from the State, leaders of armed ethnic organisations, leaders of political parties, local and international special guests, delegates, people watching this event broadcasted through television, greetings of peace and auspiciousness and wishing you all health and happiness.
At this day and time, relevant leaders who are very important for national reconciliation and peace in the Union are assembled in this conference hall. Thanks to local and international friends who assisted and helped us in making this happen.
Many ethnic nationals live in our country. After gaining independence, we were unable to establish a united Union, trusted and valued by all, and to date, we have more than seventy years of armed conflicts based on suspicion, mistrust, hate and antagonism. Dreams and aspirations of our country and our people were being sacrificed in these long-running armed conflicts.
Whether the peace that was beyond the reach of the Union throughout its history can be achieved or not is dependent on the mind and decision of the groups that are assembled in this hall.
Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement
The Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) is the outcome of the discussion by the government, Hluttaw and Tatmadaw, based on proposals made by ethnic armed organisations.
It is the main gate for the political discussions that are being widely held nowadays. Innocent ethnic nationals and people who lived in the conflict areas are starting to taste increasingly the fruit of stability and security that were created by NCA.
NCA is a hard to attain merging equilibrium point, where different forces come together. It is an agreement that is recognized internationally as well as in the country. To achieve this, former government leaders led by President U Thein Sein, Tatmadaw leaders and ethnic national leaders discussed and negotiated for months and years. Although it is not complete, it was an agreement that was acceptable by opposing and battling foes, and on behalf of ethnic nationals and the people, I would like to thank all those who untiringly negotiated and discussed with good intention.
At the moment, the peace process started by NCA had reduced armed engagements, and we could see with our own eyes that, in addition to political discussions that were never held throughout our history, we had progressed to a stage where political agreements were being signed as part of a Union agreement.
Participation of non-signatories to NCA
But some groups that participated enthusiastically in the initial stage of the peace process had not come under the umbrella of NCA yet. Similarly, groups that had avoided conflicts and armed engagements by following and maintaining bilateral agreement with the government were still unable to participate in it. Our government is keeping the peace door open for such groups striving towards finding a solution through dialogues. It is understood that it would be difficult to have full participation, but our Union’s historical political discussion is not complete without participation of these groups. We will continue to strive towards filling this gap. As I speak, representatives of these groups are inside this conference hall.
I would like to say emphatically to all the groups who are here. NCA is a merging equilibrium point where different forces come together as well as being a starting point in our march toward our ultimate destination. We are not halting or stopping at NCA. While conducting political discussion that came about from NCA, we took the first step of signing part 1 of the Union agreement at the second session of the 21st Century Panglong. We will discuss and negotiate to sign part 2 of the Union agreement on the final day of the third session of the conference. Our aim is to establish a democratic federal union. Peace conference is a political round-table discussion where important basic principles of democracy and federalism will be established. We took nearly a year to take the second step after taking the first one. After this conference is completed, we all will have to strive toward taking the third step.
Here, I would like to say specifically that in resolving political problems, it is most important not to stop but to move on. Whatever difficulties and challenges we may face between each step, do not despair. If we fall, pick ourselves up again and take another step forward. We must have firm determination in walking down the path toward democracy and a federal union. At this stage, groups that are not participating in the political discussions can start by participating at the existing situation. I earnestly urge all to work together with us in this.
Ceasefire alone is not sufficient for a sustainable reconciliation and peace in our country and our Union. Governments throughout the ages had attempted to achieve ceasefires in our country in their own ways. All had known that once a single shot was fired, ceasefire agreements disintegrate and revert back into the cycle of violence. Throughout the years, ethnic armed organisations had demanded to resolve political problems through political discussions. The main sources of armed conflicts were the inability to resolve the political problems. Today, in our 21st Century Panglong Conference, we will attempt to solve the source of the armed conflicts through dialogue.
To cease armed conflicts, it is very important to achieve political agreements that are acceptable to different forces. The National League for Democracy, that is serving as a government in accordance with the wishes of the people, firmly believed and held onto this belief since it became a party that political problems can be resolved only when a democratic federal union is established. Ethnic armed organisations also had consistently spoken of the requirement to establish a federal system for conflicts to end. The stand against the word ‘federal’ being once unacceptable had changed, and NCA was signed and pledges made toward establishing a democracy and federal union. However, to date, required agreement on ‘federal’ was not reached and is slowing down the peace process to reach a complete success. We have announced untiringly and for uncountable times throughout the period when ‘federal’ was wrongly defined that federal is not a system for secession but a system that strengthens unity.
Now, all the organisations that had signed the NCA as well as all who wish to establish a Union are of the same thinking as us. As such, in implementing ‘federal’, the main principles of non-secession from the Union and self-determination need to be negotiated, as these are very delicate matters. Although this matter is not included in this conference, it is beyond doubt that all need to notice this. At the same time, all need to bear in mind to head towards a peaceful and democratic federal union that is the best and the most secure for the people of the country. We should not strive for (the benefit of) ourselves or our group but for the (entire) people that we love and cherish.
National reconciliation and peace is the most important and the most required for our Union. At the same time, the fruit of peace should not be for those who achieve it first. But our ethnic nationals and people would not wish to wait much longer.
Our people had waited more than seventy years to go about freely in our regions, earn a livelihood and select economic and regional development opportunities on their own. They don’t want to wait any longer. Peace is not for ‘first come, take all’, but just like those who first see the rising sun, they will feel the benefits of peace first and foremost, for sure. That is why I would like to point out that any delays in our political discussions will mean wasting valuable opportunities for our people.
Everyone knows that a full year had gone by between the last conference and this one. We faced many difficulties and challenges but based on NCA that was decided by all, through off-the-record, unofficial and numerous types of discussions, we were able to hold this conference. If we have a determination to achieve peace, we will be able to overcome together whatever difficulties and challenges we may face. The last conference is the proof of our can-do spirit. Based on that conference, each group conducted reviews. Better political discussions were organised and conducted together in coordination to hold this conference. Political discussions framework can be redrawn as required, according to the agreement of all. Our government will continue to strive toward increasing and improving the momentum of political discussions. We will strive toward the establishment of a peace strategy and political discussions that are agreeable, acceptable and trustworthy to all. Changes to a framework that reflect and overcome actual difficulties faced will be conducted continuously for the establishment of a democratic federal union, which is the aim of national reconciliation and peace in our Union.
All signatory groups are urged to implement the NCA. There are two parts in implementing the NCA — strengthening ceasefire work process and successfully holding political discussion work process. Both affect one another. If there is tension or obstacle in one, it will create tension or obstacle in another. This situation is to be noted to maintain the reduction of conflicts which is the fruit of NCA, resolving conflicts through peaceful discussions at the round table, increasing participation of civilians and the public in all levels of the monitoring machinery. At the same time, whenever there are tensions, conflicts or confrontations, all are urged to abide by the NCA and respect the role of the Joint Monitoring Committee.
Similarly, if there were any disagreement in political discussions, all need to avoid anything that widens the disagreement and head toward more meetings to reach together a solution that is acceptable to all. Aiming toward a democratic federal union that will be established, all must negotiate, give, take and overcome disagreements and not hold onto a single policy and stand of a single group.
Most importantly, while all groups are concentrating on ceasefire process and political discussion work process under the ceasefire agreement, our government will increase the momentum of conducting Public-Private Partnership (PPP) work processes for regional development and improving socio-economic situation of the ethnic nationals and the people in the conflict region. All relevant groups are requested and urged to cooperate and participate in this process.
The process of establishing a democratic federal union is the ultimate aim of the national reconciliation and union peace road that we are walking together, and it was started in 2011. From bilateral agreement on ceasefire, we reached the stage of NCA, and from there we are arriving step by step to a Union Accord.
As we are in the same boat, we need to help one another. As we are on the same path toward the same aim, it should be noted that the (Myanmar) saying “a different verse for a different school and a different verse for a different village” would create numerous questions and answers that would take us far away from our aimed destination. After everything is agreed upon, if new things pop up here and there, it would destroy trust and we can reach a stage where all will go whatever direction they want to go. Peace is achieved not through pressure but only through understanding and trust. Darkness is removed by light and not by darkness. Those who had not signed the NCA and who had not participated in the creation of peace light are invited to participate in it with goodwill toward the Union. All are always being welcomed.
As everyone knows, in the situation of international and regional relations, our country and ethnic nationals in the Union need to show unity. This is the requirement of the present moment. It is a historical requirement and a preparation for the future. All leaders imagine this. Like a family that is not united, arguing and fighting among family members, our Union has been fighting within itself in a never-ending cycle for more than seventy years. No outsider will come and resolve this issue. Those who live together in the Union, be it good or bad, need to reform and resolve it. This opportunity is now in the hands of all leaders who are in this hall. The historical duty of establishing a democratic federal union for our future generations is now resting on our shoulders.
Are we going to avoid this because this duty is heavy? How heavy it may be, with unity and collective strength, this situation can be changed immediately. The opportunity to do this is within our reach.
Our government had conducted two sessions of the Panglong Conference. During the time when the conference was not held, we had numerous meetings with groups that had signed the NCA as well as those who hadn’t. In 2018, we will hold another conference. Two more will be held in 2019. Before 2020, there’ll be three more conferences. In these three conferences, it is aimed to finalise basic principles of democracy and federal system and lay a firm foundation for a future democratic federal union. These aims are not impossible dreams. These are aims that our country, our Union ought to have. Leaders of groups in attendance today are requested and urged to firmly determine to work together with our government in implementing these short term aims.
We believe and see clearly that our long term aim is establishment of a democratic federal union. We will strive with unrelenting moral force to create a stable and peaceful surrounding that is free from armed conflicts for our new generation, fulfill the wishes and aims of our preceding leaders and brighten the hopes dimmed by armed conflicts. I would like to urge all to put our efforts in unity toward achieving the historically unreachable aims of national reconciliation and peace. It will become obvious in this 21st Century Panglong who wants peace or not, who values the Union or their own group. People are watching and people will come to know.