Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Wednesday that the country’s unresolved political problems are the root cause of failure to end hostilities between the government military and ethnic armed groups as Myanmar continues to strive for permanent peace.
“The governments of the successive periods have tried their best to put an end to the armed conflicts and restore peace to our motherland, but have not yet achieved the goals of peace,” she said in her capacity as chairperson of the Central Committee for the Development of Border Areas and National Races at the 73rd Union Day ceremony in Panglong, also known as Pinlon, in Myanmar’s southern Shan state.
As state counselor, Aung San Suu Kyi has made ending Myanmar’s armed conflicts and forging peace the cornerstone of her administration, but the peace process has been stymied by ongoing fighting between Myanmar forces and rebel armies in outlying ethnic regions and by the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine state.
Her civilian-led government has held three sessions of the 21st-Century Panglong Conference attended by delegates from the government, military, and ethnic armed organizations.
The first two rounds, held in late August 2016 and in May 2017, failed to make much progress in resolving differences between the parties. At the last meeting in July 2018, delegates agreed on 52 points for establishing a democratic federal union.
The peace talks stem from the original Panglong Conference arranged by Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, independence hero General Aung San, in 1947 to grant autonomy to the Shan, Kachin, and Chin ethnic minorities before Myanmar gained its independence from colonial rule by Britain.
But his assassination in July 1947 prevented the agreements made during the conference from reaching fruition, and many ethnic groups then took up arms against the central government in wars that continued for decades.
So far, only 10 of Myanmar’s 20-odd ethnic armies have signed a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) that was first inked under former president Thein Sein and his quasi-civilian government in 2015.
“The cease-fire agreement has been only the highest form of agreement, and the sustainable peace has not yet been built. Why? Because, as our government believes, the political problems among us, which are the root of the problems of the armed conflicts, have not yet been settled, as has been highlighted in the message of the President,” Aung San Suu Kyi said.
President Win Myint marked Union Day by hosting a reception and dinner in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw for government ministers, military top brass, political party leaders, state ethnic affairs ministers, lawmakers, and representatives from armed groups that have signed the NCA.
‘Totally ignored us’
Some ethnic politicians pointed to the government’s failure to keep previous promises made to ethnic parties to give them more political power as one reason for the lack of progress with the peace process.
Padoh Saw Taw Nee, head of the Karen National Union’s Foreign Affairs Department, lambasted Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) government for failing to amend parts of constitution that it vowed to change in the run-up to elections in 2015, which the party won by a landslide.
In particular, he cited a lack of changes to Article 261, which grants Myanmar’s president the authority to appoint state and regional chief ministers rather than local legislators.
“When we demanded the amending of Article 261 … the ruling party totally ignored us,” Padoh Saw Taw Nee told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“They repeatedly promised to amend the constitution before they got elected, but they no longer cared about our desires after they formed the government,” he said.
Khin Saw Wai, a lawmaker from the Arakan National Party (ANP) who recently resigned from the NLD-led Constitutional Reform Committee, said the committee’s initiatives to amend the charter still do not include Article 261, which the ethnic minorities had unanimously demanded.
“The ANP proposed changing Article 261 and submitted a proposal for a new formation of ethnic states, but when parliament discussed the issue, they didn’t focus on agendas demanded by the ethnic parties.”
Sai Kyaw Nyunt, secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD), the largest ethnic political party in Shan state, said the NLD-dominated national parliament has rejected motions by ethnic parties and prevented them from advancing in the chamber.
“We need to assess how many NLD lawmakers have supported motions submitted by non-NLD lawmakers in the parliament,” he said.
“I don’t see many NLD lawmakers supporting motions and proposals submitted by other parties,” he added.
Han Tha Myint, an NLD spokesman and member of the party’s Central Executive Committee, said that relations between the NLD and ethnic groups have grown cold.
“We no longer have the same level of closeness as we had when the NLD was an opposition party,” he said. “We accept that we have lost unity with them. We are working on improving and warming up our relationship with the ethnic parties.”
In September, the NLD formed an Ethnic Affairs Committee headed by a Kachin lawmaker state and comprised of 15 members from other states and regions, with an eye toward wooing voters in the region ahead of elections in November.
Reported by Phyu Phyu Khine for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.