NAYPYITAW, Myanmar (AP) — Aung San Suu Kyi, whose pro-democracy party will take over power in Myanmar from a pro-military government in coming months, on Tuesday participated for the first time in official talks to bring peace with the country’s fractious ethnic minorities.
Suu Kyi (pronounced “Suu-chee”) spoke at the opening of a peace conference in the capital, Naypyitaw, that seeks to drive forward a cease-fire agreement signed last year between the government and ethnic guerrilla armies. Several major groups failed to sign the pact, and were also absent from Tuesday’s event.
Myanmar has been wracked by war for decades as ethnic minorities fight for greater autonomy from the central government.
Suu Kyi, who led her National League for Democracy to victory in November’s historic election, said in her speech Tuesday that having all of the rebel groups take part would make the cease-fire talks more effective.
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President Thein Sein hoped the ceasefire deal, inked in October, would be the keynote achievement of his term of office, which will almost certainly end within the next few weeks. But the failure to be inclusive has thrown its effectiveness into grave doubt.
The meeting that started on Tuesday is looking at political aspects of the agreement, such as giving more administrative powers to the regions.
The head of the army, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, told the meeting the door remained open to the other groups though it isn’t immediately clear how or why they will join if the agreement remains as it is.
Suu Kyi had previously urged armed ethnic groups not to sign on to the current agreement. In her speech she said she believed the fighting could be stopped but she referred to the need to bring all the armies into the process.
“It will be always more effective to have the inclusiveness of all ethnic groups than having a few,” she said. “We all can reach the ethnic people’s dream faster by cooperating with all ethnic groups.”
Among the groups staying outside the agreement are the United Wa State Army, whose numbers are put at around 20,000 and who control territory along the Chinese border, the Kachin Independence Army who are currently embroiled in fighting with government forces in jade-rich, mountainous northern Myanmar, and the smaller Ta’ang Liberation Army.