The third ‘Panglong Conference’ has been announced by Myanmar’s government during an official visit by Pope Francis, reports Catholic news agency Fides.
Tabled for the last week in January, it will be the latest in a series of peace negotiations between armed ethnic groups and government forces.
The original Panglong Conference in 1947 brought together Shan, Kachin and Chin leaders with the then head of state, Aung San, the father of current leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The conference unanimously decided to join a united Burma following its independence from Britain.
Decades of conflict followed the original meeting, and at its second iteration in 2016, dubbed the ‘21st Century Panglong’, peace talks were inconclusive despite being well attended by ethnic groups, including representatives from the mostly Christian Kachin and Karen.
Myanmar’s Christians had expressed hope that the Pope’s visit would help bring an end to ethnic conflict in the country. In his first public address he told government representatives, including Aung San Suu Kyi, that healing the wounds of their civil conflict “must be a paramount political and spiritual priority”.
However, during a meeting at the residence of the Catholic Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, the chief of Myanmar’s army, General Min Aung, told Pope Francis that “there is no religious and ethnic discrimination in the country”. By contrast, Cardinal Bo told the UK parliament in 2016 that “the military has turned religion into a tool of oppression”.
The aim of the January peace talks is to find a framework agreement for all armed minorities and so establish peace in the country, reported Fides. The talks will be attended by Christian and Muslim minorities, including leaders representing the Rohingya people.