State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday called for a constitutional amendment that would create a democratic federal union that includes all Myanmar’s ethnic groups in order to bring peace to the Southeast Asian nation wracked by decades of civil war.
“Our policies and principles are to ensure national reconciliation, internal peace, the rule of law, amendments to the constitution and keeping the democratic system dynamic and well ingrained,” she said in an address marking Myanmar’s New Year holiday, the full text of which appeared in English in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar.
“The constitution needs to be one that will give birth to a genuine, federal democratic union,” she said, adding that in its efforts to change the charter, the government led by her National League for Democracy (NLD) party “won’t resort to means which will affect national peace.”
To end the secessionist civil wars that have plagued the country, she said Myanmar’s government will strive to include ethnic armed groups it deems appropriate for inclusion in the ceasefire accord which the previous government signed with eight rebel organizations.
“Through peace conferences, we’ll continue to be able to build up a genuine, federal democratic union aspired to by all our countrymen,” Aung San Suu Kyi said.
“The internal peace process and the establishment of a genuine, federal democratic union are closely intertwined,” she said. “That’s why we need a constitutional amendment.”
Peace and reconciliation
The former military-backed government under Thein Sein, which held peace talks with some of the rebel groups and inked a nationwide peace agreement with eight of them last October, deliberately excluded others because of their ongoing hostilities with the national army.
The armed ethnic groups have called for a federal union that would give the ethnic groups autonomy over certain local affairs.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who is also NLD chairwoman and minister of foreign affairs and the President’s Office, has made national peace and reconciliation the cornerstone of the new government that came into power at the beginning of the month.
Before her party won national elections last November, she spearheaded efforts to amend the constitution, written in 2008 by a former military junta that ruled the country at the time, so that she could become president.
Aung San Suu Kyi is barred from the presidency by a provision that forbids anyone with foreign-born relatives from seeking the nation’s top office. Her two sons are British nationals, as was her late husband.
She also tried to push through a change that would reduce the power of military members of parliament, who are appointed to a quarter of the body’s seats and hold veto power over proposed constitutional changes.
Political prisoners freed
On Sunday, President Htin Kyaw granted a holiday amnesty to 65 political prisoners who were released from various prisons, although a pardon issued earlier said 83 prisoners in all would be freed, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a nonprofit human rights organization based in Mae Sot, Thailand, which lobbies for the release of remaining political prisoners in Myanmar.
AAPP secretary Taik Naing said his organization is keeping tabs on other political prisoners still in various jails.
“There are about 40 political prisoners in different jails, as we had about 120 political prisoners on our list before,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “I think the rest of the political prisoners still need to be reviewed by the National Defense and Security Council.”
The 11-member executive body, which is responsible for the country's security and defense affairs, has the authority to recommend people and prisoners to whom the president should grant amnesty.
On April 8, about 100 other political prisoners were freed and charges were dropped against roughly 70 students who had been jailed for more than a year while awaiting trial for participating in a March 2015 protest against national education policy.
The move came a day after Aung San Suu Kyi in her new role as state counselor said the release of political prisoners was a priority for the new government.
Before the releases, the AAPP put the number of activists and students facing trial on political charges at 400.
Reported by Zin Mar Win and Tin Aung Khine for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.