Myanmar’s Suu Kyi, ethnic armed groups gather for peace talks

Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi said on Tuesday (January 12) her government is ready to build ‘forever peace’ within the country as she was attending a peace summit in the in the country’s administrative capital, Naypyitaw.

Hundreds of representatives of ethnic armed groups, the military and lawmakers gathered for talks that are expected to last until the end of the week, over a ceasefire to end insurgencies that have plagued the country for decades.

The outgoing semi-civilian government of President Thein Sein signed a ceasefire in October 2015, but seven of 15 armed groups invited to participate declined to sign, including some of the most powerful.

“The holding of the Union Peace Conference is an indication that the political transition is moving ahead in a systematic and stable manner,” said Thein Sein in his opening address on Tuesday.

He assured participants a smooth handover after the 2015 election.

“The holding of the Union Peace Conference also represents the transfer of one of the most important duties that my administration will be handing over to the incoming government formed in accordance with the 2015 elections results,” he said.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won an historic election victory in November 2015, but her party will not take power until March 2016, with a presidential election expected to take place a month earlier.

The Nobel peace prize laureate had snubbed the government-led peace process, and the latest talks in the capital Naypyitaw are expected to yield little in the way of concrete deals, but could lay the groundwork for negotiations once the NLD takes power.

Several armed groups, who have been fighting for greater rights and autonomy, are hoping that Suu Kyi’s international standing and mandate would help her succeed in bridging areas of disagreement with the country’s powerful military.

“In this time, based on the mandate, it is right to do what the people wants us to do, we are ready to take the responsibility of building forever peace (within the country). I hope everybody will help us,” said Suu Kyi in her Tuesday’s remark.

Since the October signing, fighting has flared in eastern parts of the country between the military, non-signatories and groups that did not take part in the negotiations.

The gathering in Naypyitaw having been attended by President Thein Sein and the powerful army chief Min Aung Hlaing, and their appearance along with Suu Kyi reflected how smoothly the transfer of power has gone so far.

Myanmar’s generals ran the country for 49 years, until 2011, when a hybrid civilian-military government was installed.

Suu Kyi remains barred from becoming president under the military-drafted constitution, and the military remains a powerful political force.

A quarter of seats in parliament are reserved for unelected military officials. Three important cabinet ministers – home affairs, defense and border affairs – are also chosen by the commander-in-chief. (Reuters)