Suu Kyi meets ethnic rebels ahead of peace conference

By Kyaw Ye Lynn

YANGON, Myanmar (AA) – State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and leaders of rebel groups that did not sign last year’s peace deal held their first discussion Sunday, amid efforts by Myanmar’s new civilian government to end the country’s civil war.

Suu Kyi spoke with representatives of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an umbrella association of 11 ethnic armed groups, in a meeting at the National Reconciliation and Peace Center in commercial capital Yangon.

Hla Maung Shwe, a government negotiator, told Anadolu Agency that no agreement was entered during the meeting, which “focused on how to fold the excluded groups in the upcoming peace conference.”

At least 13 ethnic groups, including major rebels, had refused to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement — a peace deal signed by the previous pro-military government and eight rebel fronts in October last year — due to the exclusion of three small groups.

Although the current Suu Kyi-led government has vowed to engage in an all-inclusive peace process, it has yet to clarify how many rebel groups will be invited to the Union Peace Conference scheduled for late August.

“UNFC’s leader also presented to State Counselor about their [rebels’] meeting [set to be held] prior to the peace conference,” Hla Maung Shwe said by phone Sunday.

A meeting between ethnic armed groups is scheduled for July 26 in northern Kachin state.

The UNFC chairman General N’Ban La, who is also vice chairman of the powerful Kachin Independence Organization and its armed wing the Kachin Independence Army, has expressed confidence about the country’s first elected civilian government since 1962.

“We are expecting success. It depends on the government. If the government complies with the ethnic groups’ wishes, it will be a success,” he was quoted as saying upon arriving at Yangon’s airport Saturday evening.

Ethnic rebels have been fighting Myanmar’s central government and military for greater autonomy and self-administration since the country’s independence from Britain in 1948.

Suu Kyi has made peace and national reconciliation a priority of her National League for Democracy government, which took over in late March following the Nov. 8 election victory.

In 1947, her father, Gen. Aung San, signed the Panglong Agreement with leaders of Shan, Kachin and Chin ethnic minorities in a conference in Panglong town in Shan state 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”.