The Shan State government has made a last-minute move to cancel a five-day ethnic youth conference, citing the possibility of a negative impact on the upcoming 21st Century Panglong Convention (21CPC).

One of the organizers of the National Ethnic Youth Conference, Sai Aung Myint Oo of the Shan Youth Network, confirmed that they received an official letter yesterday evening signed by Dr. Aung Than Maung, the Burman Shan State Minister of Ethnic Affairs, requesting that the youth forum be suspended.

The National Ethnic Youth Conference is scheduled to be held in the town of Panglong, 100 kilometers east of Shan State capital Taunggyi, on July 27–31.

“All the representatives have already arrived in Panglong,” said Sai Aung Myint Oo. “The meeting will carry on as scheduled because we are working for the Union. We don’t have any weapons. We are working peacefully in accordance with the law.”

The conference itinerary includes talks on peace-building and federalism, and has gathered 600 ethnic representatives from across Burma, including Arakanese, Akha, Burman, Chin, Danu, Dawei, Intha, Kachin, Kadu, Kanan Karen, Karenni, Kokang, Lahu, Mon, Myaung Zee, Naga, Shan, Pa-O, Palaung (Ta’ang), Taung Yoe, Wa, and Yaw.

Next week sees the restart of peace talks, the so-called 21CPC, between the government, the Burmese military, and ethnic armed groups. The meeting is slated to take place in Mai Ja Yang in Kachin State. The 21CPC is a continuation of political dialogue initiated by the previous Thein Sein administration; however the new government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, says it intends maintaining the momentum of the peace process.

Speaking to Shan Herald, youth conference organizer Sai Aung Myint Oo said, “We have been planning this ethnic youth conference for many years. Because of the preliminary meeting in Mai Ja Yang, and the 21CPC that will follow in late August – to be attended by State Councillor Aung San Su Kyi – the Shan State government tried to dissuade us from holding the forum. They said they were worried our conference would affect the peace talks.

Sai Aung Myint Oo defended the youth conference, saying, “What we are doing, we do for national unity.”

The organizing committee for the National Ethnic Youth Conference said it had confirmed permission for the event three times, the final time being last week on July 22.

Sai Aung Myint Oo said that since receiving the letter last night, he had requested a meeting in person with the Shan State chief minister, but was denied.

He said that Panglong was chosen as a venue for the forum via a democratic vote by representatives of the ethnic youth groups, a decision which also factored in travel expenses and organizing costs.

The Coordination Committee for National Ethnic Youth Conference (CCNEYC) was initiated in June 2012, and has since sat for several meetings. In October 2014, they held a conference in northern Shan State which led to the formation of a committee to implement the national-level conference which is due to begin tomorrow.

The Shan town of Panglong is famous in recent Burmese history as the seat of negotiations in 1947 between Burman and ethnic leaders in preparation for independence from Great Britain.