Ethnic Leaders Say Suu Kyi Should Be on 'Peace

By Saw Yan Naing | Friday, 2 September 2011 | Irrawaddy
Leaders of a number of Burma's ethnic armed groups welcomed the approval of a “Peace Committee” by the country's Upper House of Parliament on Wednesday, but said they want opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to be a member of the committee.

The mission of the Peace Committee will be to mediate between the Burmese goevernment and the ethnic armed groups, some of which are engaged in armed conflict with the Burmese military.

Arakanese MP Aye Maung, who is the chairman of the Rakhine National Development Party, proposed that Suu Kyi become a member of the Peace Committe, but it is unclear whether his proposal will be adopted.

Naw Zipporah Sein, the general-secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU), an ethnic armed group that has been fighting the government for more than six decades in an effort to achieve autonomy for the Karen people, said, “If the government honestly forms a Peace Committee to hold talks with us, it would be a good sign. But we have to wait and see the condition and rule of the committee. We also prefer to hold talks in a neutral country, not inside Burma.”

Suu Kyi’s participation would be helpful, as she is sincerely working for democracy for the country, Zipporah Sein added.

In an open letter sent by Suu Kyi to President Thein Sein and the ethnic groups last month, Suu Kyi said that she is ready to become involved and use her influence to help end the conflicts and build peace in the nation.

Maj Sai Lao Hseng, the spokesperson for the Shan State Army-South, also welcomed the formation of a Peace Committee to mediate with ethnic groups. He said the committee should include Suu Kyi because the ethnic conflicts are a national issue and Suu Kyi is widely respected by the people of Burma.

A veteran politician, Chan Tun, also welcomed a Peace Committee, which he said should include a number of prominent and widely respected politicians.

Aye Thar Aung, another prominent Arakanese politician who is based in Rangoon, said that the government must declare a nationwide ceasefire first, and then talk to the ethnic armed groups.

“The talks should be held directly by the authorized government officials, not the chief ministers of states because they don’t have the authority for making decisions.”

“We can only say there is a possibility of peace if the government committee reaches a bilateral agreement with the ethnic delegation,” he added.

On August 18, state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar reported that the government had offered an “olive branch” to the ethnic armed groups, encouraging them to contact their respective state or division governments as a first step toward meeting with a union government delegation.

After the offer, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of ethnic armed groups, rejected the idea of one-on-one talks and called for talks between the government and the alliance of ethnic armed groups. In late August, the UNFC also formed a peace talks group in preparation for future negotiations with the Burmese government.

La Nan, the secretary of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), doesn’t expect much from the government’s Peace Committee. He said that there will be no possibility of peace with ethnic armed groups if the committee holds talks based on the 2008 constitution.

There are a dozen ethnic armed groups that have been fighting for autonomy since Burma gained independence from Britain in 1948. Tensions have boiled over into bloody clashes in recent months, most notably between the Burmese army and the KIA, the KNU and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army.

The Peace Committee has been officially named the “Committee for Eternal Stability and Peace in the Union of Burma,” according to Aye Maung.

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