NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar, Aug. 31: (AFP) – Peace talks between Myanmar’s government and warring ethnic minorities kicked off Wednesday in a bid to end decades of bloodshed and bring investment to Southeast Asia’s poorest country.
A sea of colour filled the vast conference hall in the capital Naypyidaw as delegations from Myanmar’s myriad ethnic groups mingled with stony-faced military officers decked out in full regalia.The summit is veteran democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi’s much-trumpeted effort to reshape Myanmar as a federal democracy following decades of oppressive military rule.
The Nobel laureate has made bridging the ethnic fault lines that have fractured the nation since its mid-century independence a priority of her new government, which took power in March.UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who will give the opening address Wednesday to hundreds of delegates, has hailed the conference as a “promising first step”.
Yet few expect a concrete deal to emerge from the five-day talks, which are seen as the start of a peace process that could take years.Any hope of a nationwide ceasefire has also been snuffed out by fresh flare-ups of violence in some northern states ahead of the summit.
Khua Uk Lian, assistant general secretary with the Chin National Front, said he was optimistic about the talks but warned that fighting would continue until a myriad of local issues — from drug addiction epidemics to resource tussles — were settled on the ground.
“You have local commanders fighting about local problems,” he told AFP. “It’s been like this since we have been fighting.”
Communities in the conflict zones live in stark poverty despite the rich jade, tin and teak wood forests that dot their lands and lie at the heart of many of the battles.Bringing peace to the frontier states could rejuvenate economies in the war-ravaged regions, and open up investment to foreign powers who are keen to scoop up its vast resources.
But distrust of the Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar military is known, runs deep among minorities after decades of oppression, marked by torture, rape and mass killings.
Negotiators from Suu Kyi’s government have also said privately that they are hamstrung by working with the army, which continues to control borders, defence and a quarter of parliament seats.Wednesday’s meeting comes almost 70 years after Suu Kyi’s father, independence hero Aung San, signed a landmark agreement to devolve powers to some ethnic groups after independence.
The deal collapsed after he was assassinated, before Myanmar broke from Britain in 1948, triggering the civil wars that have rumbled across the country’s borders ever since.
Suu Kyi has dubbed her summit the ’21st Century Panglong’ in reference to the agreement brokered by her father, who remains a deeply revered figure.