News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

Myanmar, rebels set for peace talks

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar Ruling party leader

Photo: www.bbc.com

Landmark peace talks between the new Myanmar government and the country’s many rebel groups are set to start this week in a bid to end one of the world’s longest-running civil wars.

Myanmar’s new government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, is to sit down with rebel groups at a major peace conference this week, months after taking power following the country’s first democratic elections in decades.

“Although no breakthrough can be expected from the conference, they are the most-inclusive peace talks in our history,” Naing Hantha, deputy chairman of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an umbrella association of 11 ethnic armed groups, told dpa.

The talks were a good start to begin trying to end one of the world’s longest-running civil wars, he added.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is to open the four-day conference, which begins on Wednesday in the capital Naypyitaw and will be attended by 18 out of 21 rebel groups fighting for greater autonomy.

Suu Kyi has made peace and reconciliation a top priority for her National League for Democracy government, which took power in March following elections in November.

Despite China’s backing of the military regime that held her under house arrest for 15 years, Suu Kyi also sought Beijing’s support for the peace talks on a key diplomatic visit earlier this month.

China has funded some of Myanmar’s ethnically Chinese rebel groups in the past.

The conference comes after a smaller peace summit in January and a ceasefire agreement signed in October between the previous pro-military government and eight rebel groups.

It has been dubbed a “Panglong for the 21st century” after a 1947 deal between Britain and then Burmese leader General Aung San, Suu Kyi’s father.

The Panglong Agreement was meant to grant nore autonomy to the major ethnic groups in the regions of Shan, Kachin and Chin under a federal government from 1948, when the country became independent from Britain.

But after the general’s assassination shortly before independence, the country quickly slid into political chaos and the military seized power in 1962.

The government had previously said all rebel groups, including those who refused to sign October’s ceasefire agreement, would be invited to attend the talks.

But Hla Maung Shwe, a negotiator at the government-linked National Reconciliation and Peace Centre, told dpa three groups still fighting the military in Shan would not be allowed to attend because they had refused to disarm.

An August 18 statement by the Ta’ang Nationalities Liberation Army, the Arakan Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army “just said they were willing to end the armed conflict,” he said.

Kyi Myint, secretary of the National Democratic Alliance Army rebel group, said that though the talks were “only the first step to peace” he remained hopeful that progress could be made.

“As the current government is the most credible one we have ever met, building peace with them will not be so difficult,” he said.

But the UNFC’s Naing Hantha said the country’s military, which still retains key portfolio’s in the Myanmar government, is vital to ending Myanmar’s chronic armed conflict.

“If the military really wants peace, it could be very soon,” he said. “It all depends on the negotiations between Aung San Suu Kyi and the military.” (dpa/NAN)