‘The Elders’ Call for Burma’s Peace, Transition to Be More Inclusive

By Nyein Nyein 28 March 2014

CHIANG MAI — A delegation from The Elders—a group of independent world leaders visiting Burma and the Burmese community in Thailand this week—said Friday they would urge the international community to push for Burma’s peace process and transition to be more inclusive.

In an interview with The Irrawaddy on Friday in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, members of the group said that “mistrust” between the government, ethnic groups and civil society appeared to be a major issue in Burma’s progress.

“We have been involved with conflicts all over the world. I don’t think conflict in Myanmar is any different from those in a sense. There is enormous mistrust,” said Martti Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland and a Nobel peace laureate, who has been a mediator in ending other armed conflicts.

The delegation—led by the deputy chair of The Elders, former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Bruntland—met with Burma President Thein Sein and Burma Army Commander in Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyidaw, as well as with the chief minister of Kachin State and civil society groups in Myitkyina, Kachin State.

The group’s second delegation to Burma in six months on Wednesday visited the Shwe Zet camp for internally displaced persons—one of the camps near Myitkyina housing those affected by the conflict between Kachin rebels and the government.

Harlem Bruntland said the purpose of the visit was to listen to as many voices as possible, from different groups in Burma, and to discuss ways The Elders can give their support.

The Elders on Thursday visited Dr. Cynthia Maung’s Mae Tao Clinic in Mae Sot, Thailand, and the Mae La border camp for mainly ethnic Karen refugees on the Thai-Burmese border who have fled decades of civil war.

Harlem Bruntland, the former director general of the World Health Organization, said The Elders “will argue and encourage a more inclusive process, to listen to the different groups and including thinking about the importance of the expertise and the training that has been going on, on health and education, in the border areas here, so that that capacity does not get lost.”

Despite mistrust and concerns about the peace process and the current changes in Burma, Harlem Bruntland said she was “glad to hear” that people in the border areas expressed that “changes have already happened” in the country.

The Elders—founded in 2007 by a group including the late Nelson Mandela with the intention of using their collective experience and influence for peace, justice and human rights worldwide—have made efforts to support Burma’s political reforms.

The group made its first visit to Burma in September last year to hear various perspectives on the country’s future and met President Thein Sein, Min Aung Hlaing, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, ex-political prisoners, parliamentarians, civil society groups and religious leaders.