Myanmar’s military commander-in-chief will meet political opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi next month for “national reconciliation” talks before her National League for Democracy (NLD) party comes to power in January.
Aung San Suu Kyi invited Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing to meet with her after the NLD won the country’s Nov. 8 general elections by a landslide to discuss the transition of power from the military-backed ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) government to her party.
Despite contentious relations between Aung San Suu Kyi and the military, Aung Min Hlaing has vowed to uphold the election results and indicated that he is willing to work with the Nobel laureate.
“The important thing is the long-term national interest of our country,” Min Aung Hlaing told The Washington Post in an interview this week.
“If we have good results for our country, we can work together,” he said. “There are so many ways to cooperate.”
Earlier this year, Suu Kyi spearheaded efforts to reduce the power of military lawmakers, who automatically control 25 percent of the seats in parliament under a constitution they wrote.
She also sought to change a constitutional provision that prevents her from assuming the presidency because her two sons are foreign nationals, as was her late husband, but lawmakers rejected it.
Min Aung Hlaing told The Washington Post that he alone could not decide to change the provision because Chapter 12 of the constitution says parliament must discuss any amendments to the charter.
The army had ignored the NLD’s landslide victory in the 1990 elections and kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. The NLD boycotted general elections a decade later that brought the military-backed USDP into power.
When asked if he regretted the way the military treated Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD leaders in the past, Min Aung Hlaing said he was not responsible for the situation.
He also said hostilities between the Myanmar army and armed ethnic groups had to end, and those who had not signed the government’s cease-fire agreement needed to be brought into the fold.
Min Aung Hlaing outlined three things he saw as necessary for Myanmar to become stable: an end to armed ethnic conflict, a maturing multiparty democratic system, and better relations between the ethnic groups and the government.
Eight armed ethnic groups signed a so-called nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) with the government on Oct. 15. Groups engaged in hostilities with the government army did not join the pact.
The Myanmar army and Shan State Army-North, for instance, have been fighting in Kyethi and Monghsu townships in eastern Myanmar’s conflict-ridden Shan state since Oct. 6, where civil society groups estimate that around 10,000 people have fled their homes.
Hostilities flared Monday when government troops opened fire on SSA-N troops, and two men sustained injuries during an explosion from an apparent bomb blast in Monghsu township on Tuesday. A second blast occurred in Mongshu more than an hour later at a nearby location, but caused no casualties, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.
In the meantime, members of the Union Peacemaking Working Committee have held talks with central committee members of the SSA-N and its political wing, the Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), one of the armed ethnic groups that have refused to sign the NCA.
When asked whether the military would transfer more power to the incoming civilian government, Min Aung Hlaing said: “It would depend on the stability of our country and people understanding the practice of democracy.”
Tin Oo, former general and co-founder of the NLD, pointed out that a civilian NLD government can protect the country’s sovereignty and people’s security by working with the military.
“If the military bravely transferred power to a civilian [NLD] government, it would work well and responsibly … together with parliament and ethnic organizations,” he said.
“The military only needs to transfer power to new government that was elected by the people according to constitution and provide good service under the new government,” he said.
Sai Myunt Lwin, general secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), pointed out that the military has been trying to solve ethnic problems for more than 50 years but has not had much success.
“They should change people to solve it,” he said, as an argument to cede power to a civilian NLD government which might be able to end ethnic conflicts with the army.
“The military can only do a cease-fire, but not bring about peace,” said writer Tun Zaw Htay. “The new government will do the rest to make peace.”
Tun Zaw Htay chastised Min Aung Hlaing for saying that Myanmar is not mature enough for democracy.
“The election results show how mature we are for democracy,” he said. “The military does not need to disturb the civilian government as it works for peace. It is difficult to create peace with ethnic groups because of the military.”
Aung San Suu Kyi already has met with Shwe Mann, USDP lawmaker and speaker of Myanmar’s lower house of parliament, to discuss the upcoming political power transition. She also has invited President Thein Sein to meet with her, although a date has yet to be set.
Reported by Nay Rein Kyaw for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.