World Bulletin / News Desk
Both groups had refused to participate in such talks with the previous pro-military administration, in a country where dozens of other ethnic rebels have been fighting the central government and military for greater autonomy and self-administration since its independence from Britain in 1948.
State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, however, has made peace and national reconciliation a priority of her National League for Democracy government, which took over in late March following their Nov. 8, 2015 election victory.
On Friday, Suu Kyi and military chief Sen. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing received a delegation from Wa rebel group, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), and Mong la rebel group, the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), in political capital Nay Pyi Taw.
“This is our first meeting with the current government,” Kyi Myint, secretary of the NDAA, which like the UWSA arose from the collapse of the Burma Communist Party in the 1980s, told Anadolu Agency by phone Friday.
He confirmed that the two ethnic Shan rebel groups would participate in the 21st Century Panglong Conference -- scheduled for late August.
Neither group signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) -- a major peace deal inked between the previous government and eight ethnic rebel groups in October last year.
Kyi Myint underlined that neither group was involved in peace talks with ex-President Thein Sein's quasi-civilian government as their regions haven’t seen fighting since a ceasefire agreement with a former military government in 1989.
“But now the process almost enters the political dialogue,” he said by phone. “That’s why we decide to join the peace conference next month.”
The delegation is to meet President Htin Kyaw on Saturday, he said.
UWSA governs No (2) Special Region in eastern Shan State and has an estimated 30,000 troops while NDAA has around 4,000 troops and rules the state’s No (4) Special Region.
Friday's meeting takes place as representatives from 18 ethnic armed organizations hold a four-day precursor meeting to the Panglong Conference in the remote Kachin State town of Mai Ja Yanng, which is under the control of the powerful rebel Kachin Independence Army.
The groups are debating four topics: discussion and approval of a manual for the upcoming conference, adoption of basic principles for the constitution of a federal democratic state, basic principles for security and defense and amending the framework for political dialogue.
The 21st Century Panglong Conference is named after the historic agreement signed by Suu Kyi’s father Gen. Aung San and leaders of Shan, Kachin and Chin ethnic minorities in Panglong town in Shan State in 1947 to grant them autonomy.
Aung San was then the deputy chairman of Burma’s Executive Council -- effectively a prime ministerial position, but still subject to the British governor’s veto.
His assassination in July 1947 prevented the agreements from reaching fruition, and many ethnic groups took up arms against the central government in wars that continued for decades and took Burma (which became Myanmar) into what became known as "the world’s longest civil war".
Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi's government has said all ethnic armed organizations would be invited to August's conference, including those that didn’t sign the NCA.