ENSCC POLICY PAPER

 

The New Panglong Initiative

 

RE-BUILDING THE UNION OF BURMA

 

 

Preamble

 

Over five decades ago, while our leaders were meeting in Panglong to deliberate the possibility of a future together after the proposed withdrawal of British protection, General Aung San, the Burman leader of the independence struggle in Ministerial Burma arrived. He instead proposed that our separate homelands in the Frontier Areas be joined to Ministerial Burma as equal partners in a new ‘Union of Burma’ to hasten the process of achieving independence from Britain. On 11 February 1947, he said:

 

The dream of a unified and free Burma has always haunted me … We who are gathered here tonight are engaged in the pursuit of the same dream.… We have in Burma many indigenous peoples: the Karen, the Kachin, the Shan, the Chin, the Burmans and others… In other countries too there are many indigenous peoples, many “races.”… Thus “races” do not have rigid boundaries. Religion is no barrier either, for it is a matter of individual conscience… If we want the nation to prosper, we must pool our resources, manpower, wealth, skills and work together. If we are divided, the Karen, the Shan, the Kachin, the Chin, the Burman, the Mon and the Arakanese, each pulling in a different direction, the Union will be torn, and we will come to grief. Let us unite and work together.

 

Our forefathers agreed and the Panglong Agreement came into being, providing a legal framework within which the different ethnic peoples would cooperate as equals. The Aung San-Attlee Agreement, which paved the way for Burma’s independence, had called for the “unification of the Frontier Areas and Ministerial Burma with the free consent of those areas.” The Panglong Agreement, therefore, became the basis for the 1947 Union Constitution and the Republic of the Union of Burma gained independence in 1948.

 

We, the representatives of the Arakan, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Mon and Shan peoples, therefore, in the spirit of Panglong, are putting forward our vision of how our peoples can once again work together voluntarily as equals with the Burmans to rebuild the Republic of the Union of Burma, which has been devastated by five decades of war.

 

 

Background

 

Our new nation, the Republic of the Union of Burma, started well with the Panglong Agreement on 12 February 1947. But five months later on 19 July, General Aung San was assassinated. However, it was not only the Burmans who lost their leader, two of our leaders, Sao Sam Htun, the Shan Sawbwa of Mong Pawn, and Mahn Ba Khaing, a Karen, also died for their dream of a united country together with Aung San.

 

In spite of the fact that in the aftermath of the assassination, the 1947 Union Constitution was rushed through to completion without reflecting the spirit of Panglong – a voluntary union of equal partners - our leaders continued to support the government of U Nu who had succeeded Aung San. When the Communist Party of Burma started their armed revolution; when the war veterans of the People’s Volunteer Organization went underground; when Burman units of the Burma Army mutinied; our leaders remained loyal to the spirit of Panglong and their promise to work together to build a new nation.

 

The loyalty of our leaders was, however, not rewarded. Instead of moving to conform more to the spirit of Panglong as the Union Government stabilized, the opposite was true.

 

Our ethnic identities and equality, which were specifically recognized at Panglong, were slowly eroded away. Even the constitutional right of the Shan people to disassociate from the Union after 10 years, guaranteed in the 1947 Union Constitution, was denied them. Our leaders tried to return to the spirit of Panglong by proposing to amend the 1947 Constitution.

 

But General Ne Win launched a coup d’etat in 1962 supposedly ‘to save the nation from disintegration’ and further denied us our rights even those guaranteed in the Union constitution. This increasing repression of our rights unfortunately led to more and more abuses until it finally led to the unhappy massacre of unarmed civilians in 1988.

 

The State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) and now the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) arranged separate cease-fire arrangements with different non-Burman ethnic armies. It has represented the cease-fire as correcting the wrongs of the past, as building peace and rebuilding the country.

 

However, while the fighting has stopped in some areas, it has intensified in others causing more suffering for the people. This is because the root of the problem has not been dealt with by the ceasefires. No political negotiations have taken place since the ceasefires started in 1989 and no political settlements have been reached between the ethnic armies and the Burmese military. A comprehensive political solution for the whole nation is needed, not just temporary military ceasefires which can be revoked at any time.

 

The Union of Burma today is facing an unprecedented crisis – economic, social and political. The survival of the Union as we know it may even be at stake.

 

Therefore, while remembering the past, we must look to the future. The question is - Can we overcome our differences and prevent the Union of Burma from disintegrating? Can we work together to perpetuate the sovereignty of the Union of Burma? Can we unite to raise the quality of life of all the peoples of Burma? 

 

We, the non-Burmans believe that all these can be achieved, if the spirit of Panglong is respected.

 

 

Vision for the Future

 

We firmly believe that the crisis in the Union of Burma today is rooted in a political problem, specifically a constitutional one – the non-adherence to the spirit of Panglong. 

 

As such, we believe that our differences can be resolved through political means, i.e. through political dialogue, negotiations and compromise. We, therefore, warmly welcome the current ‘Secret Talks’ between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) led by Senior General Than Shwe.

 

We are confident that these talks will lead to a wide-ranging and in-depth political dialogue, the Tripartite Dialogue, involving all stakeholders that will eventually lead to a new constitutional arrangement between the various states of the Union of Burma as was envisioned in 1947.

 

We recognize that in a mature democracy, there is no room for a political role for the military but we also recognize that the military played a key role in the struggle for independence from Britain. Non-Burman military forces have also played key roles in the defence of our homelands and to uphold the political aspirations of our people. In times of crisis, the military has to ensure that the rights of the people are protected.

 

We further recognize that in 1990, the people of the Union voted for the National League for Democracy (NLD) under the leadership of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. We believe that, she should have been able to form a government.

 

Therefore, given the crisis Burma is facing, we believe that it is within Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s mandate - if she wishes - to invite the State Peace and Development Council and non-Burmans nationalities, including those with ceasefires arrangement as well as those without, to form a transition government to oversee a smooth transition to democracy.

 

The ‘Transition Government’ should, however, make it a priority to convene a new ‘Panglong Conference’ of representatives of the constituent states to determine how we can work together to rebuild the nation.

 

 

Interim Measures to facilitate the transition

 

The ‘Transition Government’, however, will face tremendous challenges. How can it convene a new ‘Panglong Conference’ or ‘National Convention’, without also dealing with the huge problems facing the nation – both economic and social?

 

The ‘Transition Government’ will need to alleviate the suffering of those most deprived if it wants to convince the people of Burma that they will benefit if they participate in efforts to rebuild the nation. Our ethnic homelands have been devastated by five decades of war. Fertile lands lie fallow, hundreds of thousands have been displaced from their homes. They have been deprived of security, their livelihood, education and medical care, and many are refugees or living sub-standard lives as migrant labourers in foreign lands.

 

We, therefore, call upon the international community to, within the framework of the current ‘Secret Talks’ between the SPDC and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, explore ways and means to begin delivering humanitarian aid directly and without political interference to those in most urgent need, especially in the non-Burman ethnic states.

 

The delivery of humanitarian aid to areas of most urgent need, however, cannot be done effectively and efficiently in a war zone. We are, therefore, ready to cease all hostilities if SPDC will also agree to cease hostilities. We are even willing to unilaterally declare a ceasefire in our respective areas if the United Nations can ensure that the SPDC will accept the ceasefire and the international community is willing to monitor the ceasefire.

 

Such a nationwide ceasefire will demonstrate irrevocably that the current ‘Secret Talks’ are being taken seriously by all parties and that it will develop into an all encompassing political dialogue to resolve the crisis in Burma. The nationwide ceasefire will help reduce the incidence of forced labour (including military porterage), anti-religious activities, forced relocations and human rights abuses. It will also reduce the flow of refugees into neighbouring countries.

 

Furthermore, as the ‘Transition Government’ moves to convene a new ‘Panglong Conference’, or ‘National Convention’, it will need to ensure that all segments of society including non-Burmans, Burmans, exiles and the military, can actively participate in the political deliberations and contribute to the rebuilding of the Union of Burma.

 

Therefore, we urge all parties to seriously consider the possibility that the ‘Transition Government’ grant - immunity from arrest for those considered to be outside the law by the SPDC and immunity from prosecution for military leaders considered to have committed abuses by the world community. A truth and reconciliation process as was carried out in South Africa could be considered at a later date.

 

 

Basic Principles to Ensure Political Stability

 

In addition to the above interim measures, we propose that the following principles be agreed upon by all participants, to enable the ‘Transition Government’ and the new ‘Panglong Conference’ or ‘National Convention’ to resolve the many problems we face in a systematic and step-by-step process:

 

MORATORIUM - In the initial stage of the transition, before we have decided on a constitutional arrangement between the historic states of the Union, we should agree to refrain from attempting to subdivide or change the boundaries or names of the current states and divisions. All issues of concern should be addressed in subsequent constitutional talks.

 

HUMAN AND CITIZENSHIP RIGHTS – Agree that all citizens of the Union regardless of their ethnic or social background, religion or state of residence, have the same basic human and democratic rights. It should be further agreed that illegal immigrants have the basic human rights as set up in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They, however, do not have the same democratic rights as citizens.  It should be further agreed that cultural and religious rights must be respected.

 

DECENTRALIZATION – Agree that all states within the Union should consider decentralizing their administrative structures to enable the multi-ethnic societies in their midst to function in harmony with their respective neighbours and prevent the unjust domination of one group over the other. Decentralization, however, should not be taken to mean that the national government cannot have national policies that will benefit the whole nation.

 

PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION – Agree that proportional representation should be considered for all electoral processes within the Union including state and local elections, in order to enable smaller grouping to participate fully in the political process. Such a system will enable multi-ethnic societies to function in harmony with their respective neighbours and prevent the unjust domination of one group over the other.

 

 

Conclusion

 

The Union of Burma came into being as an independent sovereign nation in 1948 because all the different ethnic nationalities agreed to work together as equals. Today, the Union of Burma is facing a very serious crisis due to the non-adherence to the spirit of and the agreement reached at Panglong.

 

The current ‘Secret Talks’ between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) led by Senior General Than Shwe is a very crucial and important first step in the right direction.

 

We, the non-Burman ethnic nationalities, warmly welcome this development and are confident that these talks will lead to a wide-ranging and in-depth political dialogue that will in turn lead to a new just and voluntary constitutional arrangement between the various states of the Union of Burma as was envisioned in 1947.

 

We believe that if we adhere to the spirit of Panglong, we can overcome our many and long-fought-over differences and rebuild a nation that will benefit all our peoples.

 

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