State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi told the stakeholders in Myanmar’s peace process on Wednesday to prepare for a national conference within a few months and named a new government mediator to monitor negotiations with the military and armed ethnic groups.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who is also foreign minister and minister of the President’s Office, said she will take the lead on the peace process during a meeting in the capital Naypyidaw with members Myanmar’s military and the state-level Ceasefire Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC), which monitors the cease-fire process.
The JMC was formed by eight armed ethnic groups who signed a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) last October with the country’s army under the former military-backed government led by Thein Sein. His administration had excluded other rebel groups from the NCA because of ongoing hostilities with them, while others opted not to join.
“We have to work on holding a peace conference and including nonsignatories of the NCA in the peace process at the same time,” she said.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who has made national peace and reconciliation the cornerstone policy of the National League of Democracy (NLD) government that came into power at the beginning of the month, said efforts to include rebel groups considered appropriate for inclusion in the cease-fire process should be undertaken at the same time.
“We shouldn’t do one only after the other is done,” she said. “We can persuade the nonsignatory groups to join the peace process by showing them the benefits of joining the NCA.”
General Saw Issac Po, a vice chairman of the JMC, said all the armed ethnic groups that did not sign the NCA should be included in the peace process as part of national reconciliation.
“I also promise that we, the groups that signed the NCA, will cooperate to include them as much as we can,” he said.
Lieutenant General Yar Pyae, vice chairman of the JMC, emphasized the need to maintain what has been achieved so far in the peace process.
“We have to work to maintain the current stability and implement goals based on the understanding and relationships of leaders from both sides,” he said.
JMC secretary Shwe Kha noted that Aung San Suu Kyi said she wants to rename the Myanmar Peace Center, the government-affiliated organization where peace talks are held, as the National Reconciliation and Peace Center.
“What I understood is that she wants this new peace center not only to have members from the government side, but also to have members from the ethnic groups,” he said.
The JMC has proposed holding a brainstorming meeting during the second week of May to discuss how the stakeholders will organize the national peace conference, Shwe Kha said.
Besides the JMC, the meeting will include government representatives, former Myanmar Peace Center members, and those who serve on the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC), a body formed last November to implement the political dialogue between the government and ethnic armed groups, he said.
Aung San Suu Kyi also said Tin Myo Win, her personal physician, will be the government’s new peace mediator, replacing Aung Min who led the peace process under the previous administration.
Protesters want end to war
In the meantime, conflicts between the Myanmar army and armed ethnic groups continue to rage in the country’s north and west.
On Wednesday, about 1,500 protesters in the town of Kyauktaw in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state called for an end to the fighting there between the national army and Arakan Army (AA) soldiers, which has forced about 1,000 residents to flee their homes.
“We are demanding that the fighting be resolved by political means because it is a political problem,” protester Maung Aye Saw told RFA, adding that the protesters are also calling for the release of AA members who have been jailed.
In March, a Kyauktaw court handed down jail sentences for unlawful association with the AA to 11 men who were arrested in connection with the clashes between government troops and rebel forces in the area.
The day before, the same court sentenced 12 others to three to five years in jail for their involvement with the AA.
The protestors also objected to government soldiers who have forced villagers to perform work for them.
Last week, army troops abducted five residents from Yasoechaung village of Rathedaung township in Rakhine state, and forced other villagers to serve as porters.
“The villagers were taken by the government army to be porters,” Maung Aye Saw said. “Many villagers are suffering from this. We are demanding that the army not do this again.”
Reported by Win Ko Ko Latt, Tin Aung Khine and Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Reported in English by Roseanne Gerin.