Two of Myanmar’s ethnic ministers have called for 12-party talks in a move towards a nationwide cease-fire agreement a day after president Thein Sein met with nearly 40 politicians and ethnic leaders to push for a deal to be signed next month.
Tun Aung Myint, chairman of the Kayin People’s Party and Karen ethnic affairs minister of the Yangon region, and No Than Kap, Chin ethnic affairs minister for the Sagaing region, submitted a proposal for 12-way discussions on national reconciliation Tuesday, said speaker of the lower house of parliament Shwe Mann.
“We want peace,” Shwe Mann said. “To have peace, we have to work on national reconciliation. This meeting with the ethnic affairs ministers will support to our efforts in the peace-making process.”
The request came during Shwe Mann’s meeting with nearly 30 of the country’s ethnic affairs ministers in the capital Naypyidaw to discuss an ethnic rights protection bill. The ethnic affairs ministers had an opportunity during the meeting to submit what they wanted to add to and amend in the country’s constitution.
In his opening speech at the meeting, Shwe Mann said the discussion among the ethnic affairs ministers would be helpful for national unity, reconciliation and peace-making efforts, according to a report in the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper.
Tun Aung Myint told the Democratic Voice of Burma that he suggested that the talks for constitutional reform be urgently facilitated, as the general elections scheduled for late October or early November draw closer, and a nationwide cease-fire be implemented as soon as possible.
He also said ethnic affairs ministers and political parties must ensure free and fair elections and be included in campaigns that promote religious harmony at all levels, according to the report.
The upper house of parliament has discussed the ethnic rights protection bill and sent it with suggestions to the lower house, which will review it a second time. If the entire legislature approves the it, the bill will be sent to Thein Sein, the report said.
Thein Sein’s meeting
The call for 12-party talks by the two ethnic affairs ministers came a day after President Thein Sein’s meeting with 48 leaders from political parties, the military and ethnic groups in Naypyidaw to discuss constitutional reform and a nationwide cease-fire agreement that he wants signed on Feb. 12, Myanmar’s Union Day.
But bickering over the number of parties to be included in the discussions has stymied progress on the issue.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, chairwoman of the National League for Democracy (NLD) had been holding out for four-way discussions among herself, Thein Sein, Shwe Mann and military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
She wants amendments to the 2008 constitution to curb the political power of the military, which controls a quarter of the seats in parliament through appointment and holds an effective veto over charter reform, and make her ineligible for the country’s presidency.
But after Monday’s meeting with Thein Sein, she called for six-party talks that would also include speaker of the upper house of parliament Khin Aung Myint and a representative of the ethnic parties.
The NLD on Tuesday issued a statement saying the 48-party discussion was “hardly a fruitful one,” according to a local report.
“Is it a meeting between government and political parties? I am not clear on what the principle behind that meeting was,” Suu Kyi was quoted as saying after the meeting by The Irrawaddy online journal. “It is a little difficult to understand. They are neither party leaders nor chairs of parliamentary committees. I told the president the meeting shouldn’t be an excuse to avoid the six-party talks. He didn’t respond to anything I said.”
Ye Htut, the presidential spokesman and information minister, said further talks would follow Monday’s meeting during which the ideas discussed would be brought together, according to The Irrawaddy.
Thein Sein has refused to hold four-party talks as well as six-party talks put forward by parliament, which would put the reform of Myanmar’s controversial 2008 constitution at the center of the cease-fire negotiations with country’s armed ethnic groups.
He did, however, hastily arrange 14-party talks at the end of October, a week before visits by world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, for two regional summits—a move criticized by many observers as a show to demonstrate that the government was making progress towards national reconciliation.
He also met with lawmakers from more than 60 political parties on Nov. 26 in the commercial capital Yangon about their “responsibility” to amend the constitution.
Reported by Myo Thant Khine for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.