Peace talks between Myanmar government, armed groups begin

World Today

Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi gives a speech during peace talks at the Myanmar Convention Centre II in Naypyitaw January 12, 2016. Suu Kyi addressed on Tuesday hundreds of representatives of ethnic armed groups, the military and lawmakers, gathered for talks over a ceasefire to end insurgencies that have plagued the country for decades. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

A crucial peace conference began in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw on Tuesday, bringing together representatives from the government and armed ethnic groups.

The five-day meeting is to play an important part in the country’s political transition, following the general election in November 2015, said President U Thein Sein at the opening ceremony.

Five main topics set for discussions at the peace conference are said to cover political, security, economic and social issues, as well as issues related to land and natural resources.

Hundreds of representatives from the government, parliament, military, political parties and the eight armed ethnic groups that signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Accord (NCA) are attending the conference. The meeting is the biggest gathering of political forces in the country since its independence in 1948, according to the president.

The country’s powerful army chief Min Aung Hlaing also spoke at the opening ceremony, calling the meeting a “historic event” that could help bring “lasting peace, stability and security” for the country. He added that the door of peace was open for those who have not signed the NCA so far.

Before the conference, the government held talks with 15 major groups and signed the NCA with eight of them last October. For decades, sporadic conflicts between the government and armed ethnic groups have plagued the country.

U Shwe Mann, the Speaker of Parliament, called on all people to participate in the peace process. Stressing the importance of rule of law, he said it is also necessary to amend the existing law in conformity with the era and to become a democratic federation.

Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy (NLD) won a thumping victory in the November election, also addressed the gathering, saying that she was optimistic that the “fighting will be finished soon” if the nation’s political standards are improved and all groups work together.

She also promised to use her party’s popular mandate to drive Myanmar’s peace process as she outlined a vision of a federal future to ethnic groups that have battled for decades.

“We cannot build lasting peace without national reconciliation,” she said. “Now we are ready to lead the peace process, because we have the power invested in the mandate given to us by the people and ethnic minorities.”

The NLD is expected to assume power in March, a month before the presidential election.

Reuters reports that several armed groups are hoping that Suu Kyi can successfully bridge areas of disagreement with the government and the military.

“We have high expectations for Aung San Suu Kyi and her government to negotiate with army chief. Without the military’s involvement, it will be impossible to end the fighting across the country,” Reuters quoted Padoh Saw Thamein Tun, one of the leaders of the Karen National Union, an armed ethnic organization, as saying.

However, Suu Kyi remains barred from becoming president under the current constitution, and the military remains a powerful political force with a quarter of seats in parliament reserved for unelected military officials and some of cabinet ministers being chosen by the commander-in-chief.

Story by CCTV News