Holding his first-ever press conference for the Burmese media on Sunday, President Thein Sein vowed to continue seeking an end to the conflict in Kachin State and other ethnic problems that still beset the country despite the transition to civilian rule.
“The fighting [in Kachin State] began more than a year ago, and it has cost our country a great deal,” the president told reporters in Naypyidaw. “Local people are suffering most of all. That’s why our government is trying to build trust with the Kachin so that we can finally build peace.”
Every time a Kachin soldier dies, Burma loses another citizen, said the president. The same is true when a Burmese soldier falls in battle, he added.
Despite his conciliatory tone, however, Thein Sein also criticized the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) for committing acts of sabotage, citing the example of an attack on a power station in Shan State in May that impacted the national electrical grid.
In addition, he said, the KIA has bombed roads, bridges and railways, inflicting harm not only on the Burmese army, but also on the country’s property.
Even as he acknowledged the ongoing conflict in Kachin State, however, Thein Sein touted the success of his peace efforts elsewhere in the country as one of his administration’s major accomplishments.
He also reiterated that his peace plan involves three steps. The first is talks between the ethnic armed groups and state governments, followed by negotiations with Union ministers and leading, finally, to a permanent political solution reached in Parliament.
Although several armed groups have gone as far as the second step, however, many say that they have no intention of joining Parliament to fight for their ethnic rights as long as Burma is still governed by the military-drafted 2008 Constitution.
Thein Sein also commented on his new relationship with the media, saying that unlike Burmese rulers of the past, his administration is “no longer afraid” to speak to journalists.
“In the past, many ministers were afraid to talk to the media, including me. But I have encouraged them to speak truthfully to the media and no longer avoid it,” he said, adding that his appearance on the BBC news program HARDtalk earlier this helped him to overcome his fear of reporters.
Another issue that came up during the press conference was his recent refusal to allow the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to set up an office in Burma, following Buddhist monk-led protests against the move earlier this month.
In response to a question, he said that he would not reverse his decision to block the OIC office, but added that Burma needed international assistance to deal with the aftermath of communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Arakan State in June.
Thein Sein also promised that a new foreign direct investment law would be passed by Parliament in the very near future. He said that laws protecting foreign investors were essential to attract the capital and technology that Burma would need to create new jobs and upgrade the skills of its people.