Friday, September 22, 2017

Security questions linger ahead of peace summit

With less than one week to go until ethnic armed groups from around the country descend on the capital for the 21st-century Panglong Conference, Nay Pyi Taw police say they intend to request that attendees not bring weapons with them.

“We’ll send request letters in advance to the ethnic groups which have not yet abandoned weapons [requesting them] not to bring weapons to the conference. And, for security, we will examine [attendees] with machines at the hotels where the delegates will stay,” he said.

Police sources say beefing up security ahead of the summit should be made a priority, as ethnic armed groups that are not signatories to the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) will be in attendance.

Three of the key holdout groups – the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Arakan Army (AA) – have signalled their intention to attend. All three had previously rejected the stipulation that they must lay down arms in order to attend. It is not clear yet what resolution was reached on the subject.

Security operations in Nay Pyi Taw have yet to get under way. Special precautions are not yet being taken at prominent locations, and the conference venue itself, the Myanmar International Convention Centre 2 (MICC-2), is not the subject of any special orders.

“Currently, there have been other meetings and events held at MICC-2. So, we have not been able to start any preparation works for the Panglong Conference,” Nay Pyi Taw City Development Committee deputy director U Tin Tun Aung told The Myanmar Times on August 23.

“We have not been ordered to tighten up security for the Panglong Conference,” said Police Lieutenant Min Si Thu of police branch 19, currently tasked with providing security for the convention centre site. “We’re now serving our normal duties at MICC-2.”

Police Colonel Zaw Khin Aung told The Myanmar Times that 50 percent of his command would be guarding MICC-2, while the other half would be on general security duties around Nay Pyi Taw. He said the hotels at which delegates attending the conference stay will also be under police guard.

This stands in stark contrast to the major security operation mounted for a peace meeting in January under the previous Union Solidarity and Development government. About 10,000 security forces were assigned to Nay Pyi Taw for the event.

The MICC-2 site has a capacity of 2000 people. About 750 are expected to attend the Panglong Conference, President’s Office deputy director general U Zaw Htay said, adding that a higher, indeterminate number was expected for the opening ceremony.

Translation by Win Thaw Tar