Families Reunite on Sidelines of Chin Peace Talks

By Lawi Weng 6 December 2012

RANGOON—D. Maung Pe stands among hundreds of ethnic Chin at Rangoon International Airport. The 79-year-old is about to welcome leaders of the Chin National Front (CNF) who are arriving to have a second round of peace talks with the Burmese government.

Wearing a crisp shirt and new trousers, D. Maung Pe waits with his daughter who is attired in traditional ethnic Chin dress and holds a bunch of flowers in anticipation of Thomas—the brother she has not seen in 28 years.

Twenty CNF leaders flew from Kalay Township to the former capital on Wednesday with Thomas amongst them. He studied law before fleeing to the jungle in 1984 to join the armed rebel group and fight for greater ethnic autonomy in western Burma. For many years, none of his family was quite sure if he was dead or alive.

D. Maung Pe has 11 children—Thomas is the eldest of three boys—and is proud of his son for taking part in the struggle for the Chin people. “This is my happiest time and my joy cannot be measured,” he said.

Priscilla, Thomas’s elder sister, said, “We could not even imagine that we would ever be reunited with him again. Now our hopes have come true and we are naturally delighted.”

Priscilla gave her grinning brother a flower as they embrace in front of the domestic arrival gate. Thomas told The Irrawaddy that, “It took many years to see them again but we are reunited now, and this makes me very happy. But there are many problems we need to solve in our political conflict. We want to have genuine federal union.

“I will keep working to have this. If we do not have this, my family will have to be broken up again. We all need to cooperate to work together in order to have this.”

CNF leaders will have peace talks with Naypyidaw representatives on Friday, according to group spokesman Dr. Sui Khar, who explained that his delegation will have an initial casual discussion before a formal meeting on Saturday.

They will meet with President’s Office Minister Aung Min, the government’s chief negotiator with ethnic armed groups, after first having talked with Chin community groups in the former capital on Wednesday.

In January, the CNF signed a preliminary ceasefire agreement and then held peace talks with central government representatives in the Chin State capital Hakha on May 7. The subsequent agreement included a cessation of hostilities and the opening of liaison offices in Tedim, Thantlang and Matupi.

“This trip is to meet the Union government,” said Sui Khar. “We will keep discussing what we have agreed from the first meeting about how to implement peace and the issue of development, and we even will discuss political issues.”

Sui Khar emphasized the need to build trust in order to cement peace and thanked the government for inviting his delegation to Rangoon. “This is just a first step for building trust,” he said.

Mountainous Chin State is the poorest region of Burma with low wages, insufficient healthcare and poor education. Chin people have been asking for development to tackle these ongoing issues and also ensure adequate crops as food shortages are also common.

Za Peng, 70, was also waiting for the CNF delegation at Rangoon International Airport and told The Irrawaddy about his hopes for the next generation. “If there is peace in my state, there can be development as well,” he said. “At the same time, people will get a good healthcare system.”

Dr. Piangeen, another ethnic Chin member of the welcoming party, agreed and said, “We have a lot of bad feeling towards this government. There are no changes yet in our Chin State. They have ignored development there.”