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Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Ethnic Nationalities: Nationwide Ceasefire and Genuine Dialogue Necessary for National Reconciliation

By Burma Partnership  •  August 1, 2011

On 25 July, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi met with the military regime’s representative, Aung Kyi at a state-run guesthouse. This was the tenth meeting between Daw Suu and the regime’s Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Minister, appointed as liaison to the democracy leader. After the 70-minute meeting, Aung Kyi read a statement that failed to give any details about what was discussed, but declared that both sides were happy about the meeting. However, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s serious demeanor and body language suggested otherwise.

Khin Ohmar, Coordinator of Burma Partnership and Chairperson of the Network for Democracy and Development, told the Irrawaddy, “I don’t think the government is honest about this meeting. It is just window dressing. They want the international community to know that they have started a dialogue toward national reconciliation. They are using Aung San Suu Kyi.” This meeting was nothing more than an attempt by the regime to convince ASEAN that they are deserving of the bloc’s chairmanship in 2014. When ASEAN makes its decision, likely to be at the Summit in Bali in November, the bloc must not consider this meeting as a sign of serious dialogue and must certainly not reward the regime for such empty actions.

Three days later, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi stressed just how much genuine dialogue is needed in the country by issuing an open letter addressed to President Thein Sein and ethnic armed groups in Kachin, Shan, Karen and Mon states. The letter called for “immediate ceasefires and the peaceful resolution of the conflicts.” Daw Suu concluded the letter pledging “to do everything in [her] power towards the cessation of armed conflicts and building peace in the Union.”

The armed ethnic groups, to whom the letter was addressed, as well as others, have welcomed Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s letter. The Kachin Independence Organization, Karen National Union and the New Mon State Party all agreed with Daw Suu’s timely calls for ceasefire and dialogue, but also highlighted the difficulties of engaging in discussions with the regime. Unsuccessful negotiations in the past led some groups to encourage Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to act as mediator for dialogue between the two parties. It remains unclear whether Daw Suu’s pledge to help meant that she would take on the role of mediator, or whether the regime would even accept her in that role.

Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) officials suggested that the group may be close to signing a ceasefire agreement with the regime. The KIO responded to the regime’s latest proposal that the ceasefire must be implemented nationwide within 48 hours and political dialogue initiated within 15 days. The Karenni National Progressive Party backed up the KIO’s demands in a statement this week calling for the regime to negotiate ceasefires and engage in dialogue with all ethnic parties collectively through the United Nationalities Federal Council, rather than one by one.

A nationwide ceasefire agreement that holds the regime and armed ethnic groups on equal footing is a crucial first step towards national reconciliation, one that ASEAN and the international community can and must encourage the regime to take. Short meetings such as this week’s talk between Daw Suu and Aung Kyi will not pave the way for building peace and unity. Rather, there must be frank and substantive discussions between the regime, ethnic groups and democratic forces.

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