A major new national ethnic youth alliance has been formed this week with its first vow being to ensure the inclusion of young people in the forthcoming 21st-century Panglong Conference – despite government chiefs’ attempts to dismiss them.

The announcement comes after around 800 youth delegates from across the country gathered at the site of the historic 1947 Panglong agreement for the past week to discuss peace, federalism and ethnic minority rights.

Organisers of the Ethnic Youth Conference, which concluded yesterday, told The Myanmar Times that if the government would not allow the youth contingent a dedicated seat at the table, they would lobby ethnic armed groups, civil society groups and politicians.

Min Naung Htaw, a representative of the Mon delegation, said, “We are not sure yet whether our desire to be involved will be fulfilled or not, but we will find a way by approaching the ethnic leaders and the MPs.”

Last-minute attempts by the government to halt the Ethnic Youth Conference were ignored by organisers who pushed ahead regardless. But speaking at the time, deputy director general for the President’s Office U Zaw Htay suggested the young delegates were wasting their time. “The government will not take into account their recommendations because it already has plans for the participation of civil society groups in the peace process,” he said.

But the leaders of the new youth alliance insisted on their right to be involved.

Kyaw Min Htike, a Dawei ethnic youth representative, said, “We youths are the future of this country. The government should create a pathway for young people in the political sector to have a role in forming a better country.”

The much-heralded 21st-century Panglong Conference, due to take place at the end of this month, will see 700 representatives of the government, parliament, the Tatmadaw, ethnic armed groups, political parties, ethnic representatives and a small “other relevant representatives” contingent come together in a bid to reach an agreement to end the country’s long-running civil war.

While campaigners have called for a quota of female representatives to be instated, the issue of youth representation has largely gone undiscussed. By far the majority of those who will attend the event tipped as so crucial to the country’s future will be older men.

Organisers of the Ethnic Youth Conference, which ran for six days with delegates from dozens of different ethnic groups in attendance, said another key resolution from the event was a unified demand for the immediate cessation of major business projects involving natural resources in conflict zones.

“When we analysed the causes of conflict, natural resources were seen to be one of the principal issues,” said Khun Oo, a Pa-O ethnic spokesperson for the new National Ethnic Youth Alliance.

“Any big natural resource projects must involve transparency and accountability and should not be allowed to begin until peace has been achieved,” he added.

While consensus was reached on what would be a positive step toward achieving peace, the youth delegates were unable to gain agreement on another key conference topic – how a federal Union should look. Representatives said the new alliance would continue to discuss the issue.

Organisers said that the new alliance would comprise representatives of at least 26 different ethnic minorities, with more expected to come on board.

“We organised a historic event that showed big unity among the ethnic people in the spirit of the 1947 Panglong Agreement. We are proud of it and we will continue working for the federal Union we dream of,” said Khun Oo.

Link: http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/national-news/21733-youth-ethnic-alliance-emerges-after-summit.html