Myanmar′s Suu Kyi starts 5-day peace talks in Naypyitaw | News | DW | 31.08.2016
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Myanmar's Suu Kyi starts 5-day peace talks in Naypyitaw

Peace talks have begun in Myanmar to end decades of carnage between ethnic minorities and the military. The nation's new leader Aung San Suu Kyi told delegates that reconciliation was essential for recovery.

Delegates from 18 rebel groups attended the summit's opening Wednesday in the jungle capital Naypyitaw, alongside stoney-faced military officers.

"If all those who play a part ... in the peace process cultivate the wisdom to reconcile differing views for the good of the people ... we will surely be able to build the democratic federal union of our dreams," said Suu Kyi in her opening remarks.

Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi said the five days of talks offered the country a "unique opportunity" to make good on a 1947 deal between her late father, Myanmar's national hero General Aung San, and colonial power Britain that should have given ethnic groups autonomy, but which fell apart.

The Panglong Conference, a meeting between General Aung San and ethnic minorities in 1947, led to the formation of the Union of Burma after independence from Britain.

General Aung San was assassinated shortly after independence in 1948.

"Only if we are all united will our country be at peace. Only if our country is at peace will we be able to stand on an equal footing with other countries in the region and across the world," Suu Kyi said on Wednesday.

Army still exerts power

Privately, Suu Kyi's aides have said her government is still hamstrung by having to work with Myanmar's army. It still controls borders, defense and a quarter of the seats in parliament.

Also attending the talks are UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and international diplomats. Three of Myanmar's 21 rebel groups are absent.

On Tuesday, Ban had called on Myanmar to improve conditions for the Rohingya community. There are no representatives for the 1.1 million Muslim community at the peace summit. Many in the Buddhist majority country regard the largely stateless Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They are not among the 135 ethnic groups recognised by law.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at the Naypyitaw peace talks

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon at the Naypyitaw peace talks

Some 120,000 Rohingya remain displaced in squalid "internally displaced persons" (IDP) camps since fighting erupted in Rakhine state between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012.

Last week Suu Kyi picked former UN chief Kofi Annan to lead a commission to stop human rights abuses in Rakhine.

Rebel armies

Rebel armies control a patchwork of remote territories rich in jade, tin and timber, mostly in Myanmar's north and east, along its borders with China and Thailand.

Many communities live in poverty despite the economic potential. Distrust of the military stems from decades of oppression, including mass killings and rape.

Current commander in chief Min Aung Hlaing said a ceasefire signed with eight groups last year should be joined by other ethnic militias, according to an English-language transcript of his address to the conference.

Since 2011, skirmishes, especially between Kachin insurgents and the army, have displaced more than 100,000 civilians. Some are living in refuge in squalid camps in neighboring Thailand.

General Min Aung Hlaing at the Naypyitaw peace talks

General Min Aung Hlaing at the Naypyitaw peace talks

"We don't want to see our people living in poor and vulnerable conditions anymore because of the fighting," said N'Ban La, chairman of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of 11 ethnic rebel groups. "And now the country has its first fully-elected civilian government. That's why we decided to find solutions through negotiations," said N'Ban La, who is also the deputy chairman of the Kachin Independent Organization, the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Khua Uk Lian, a deputy leader of the Chin National Front - one of the eight groups that agreed to the recent ceasefire - said fighting was hard to stop.

"You have local commanders fighting about local problems," he said. "It's been like this since we have been fighting."

Military chief Hlaing warned against drawn out peace talks, saying "interferences" could eventuate if the process took longer than the "appropriate time."

ipj/jm (AFP, AP, dpa)

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