BURMA TALKS WILL INCLUDE ETHNIC MINORITIES


2002-05-05
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WASHINGTON - Ongoing talks between Burma's ruling junta and the pro-democracy leader it has now freed from house arrest must eventually include the Southeast Asian country's fractious ethnic minorities, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi said a day after her release. Khun Htun Oo, leader of the Shan National League for Democracy (NLD), told Radio Free Asia's Burmese service Aung San Suu Kyi wants to expand the role of ethnic minorities in an 18-month-old effort at political reconciliation brokered by U.N. envoy Razali Ismail. At a meeting with the central committee of her NLD party, along with members of the Chin and Kokang Shan minorities, Aung San Suu Kyi said "now the role of ethnic minority groups in Burma has broadened." "New ethnic leaders must work hard and ... get involved in matters of the state and the country," Khun Htun Oo quoted her as saying. "She said that dialogue continues for now between the NLD and the [junta], but that it would expand in the future to include ethnic minority groups," he said in an interview. "She also said matters of the state are not only for Burmans talking to Burmans, and that solutions cannot be found by just the [junta] and the NLD talking amongst themselves. When the time comes, the ethnic nationalities must also participate," he quoted her as saying. Khun Htun Oo couldn't say when such tripartite talks might begin. But he quoted Aung San Suu Kyi as saying the confidence-building stage had concluded-and that she is now preparing for substantive discussions with the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Aung San Suu Kyi was freed earlier Monday from her lakeside villa, where she has lived under house arrest since September 2000. She returned to NLD headquarters and vowed to continue the fight for democracy. Government spokesman Colonel Hla Min said in a statement on Sunday that Burma's history had turned a "new page." What that might mean for the country remains unclear. Burma has lived under military rule since 1962. The SPDC seized power in September 1988 after suppressing a nationwide pro-democracy uprising. It held national elections in 1990 in which the NLD won by a wide margin, but the junta has refused to honor those election results. Burma's 1947 Constitution identified six major ethnic minorities, but the SPDC sets the figure at 135 distinct groups-which it views as too unwieldy to include in the U.N.-brokered talks. In its 2001 report on human rights worldwide, issued in March, the State Department described Burma�s human rights record as "extremely poor," citing its "longstanding, severe repression of its citizens" and "systematic" discrimination against minorities. "Wide-ranging governmental and societal discrimination against minorities persists. Animosities between the country's many ethnic minorities and the Burman majority, which has dominated the Government and the armed forces since independence, continued to fuel active insurgencies that resulted in many killings and other serious abuses during the year," the report said. Army soldiers are frequently reported to be involved in killing, beating, and raping members of the Chin, Karen, Karenni, and Shan minorities. Minority groups also claim that economic development among minorities has lagged, leaving many people struggling to survive. Radio Free Asia (RFA) broadcasts news, information, and cultural programming to Asian listeners who lack regular access to full and balanced reporting in their domestic media. Through its broadcasts and call-in programs, RFA aims to fill a critical gap in the lives of people across Asia-giving them a voice as well as a means of connecting with the world and with one another. Created by Congress in 1994 and incorporated in 1996, RFA currently broadcasts in Burmese, Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Mandarin, the Wu dialect, Vietnamese, Tibetan (Uke, Amdo, and Kham), and Uyghur. It adheres to the highest standards of journalism and aims to exemplify accuracy, balance, and fairness in its editorial content.

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