YANGON — State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi urged the public not to be afraid to complain if they spot any wrongdoing by ministers and civil servants during her fifth public “peace talk” on Friday in Loikaw, the capital of Kayah State.
She said channels for complaints were open to the public and encouraged people to exercise their democratic rights and responsibilities. She was responding to comments from Ko Mario, a 26-year-old farmer who highlighted the public’s fear of the government and Tatmadaw, the common term for Myanmar’s military, in the area.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that if members of the public failed to raise their complaints they would be abetting injustice. “If the administrators do wrong, the public has the responsibility to complain,” she said. “It is your right. And if we don’t know, we cannot take any action. So don’t be afraid.”
“You must value yourselves and use your authority and ability,” she continued. “We, the Union government, cannot know about each one [minister and civil servant]. Only when you raise your concerns and complain can we know, so don’t feel like a burden.”
As Christians, Mario said, they were not allowed to place crosses on their own land because the Tatmadaw would confiscate them. He shared his childhood experiences as a displaced person.
“In 2008 when we returned to our homes in the hills after we fled from the fighting, we saw the signposts on our land that said it was owned by the military. We want to ask for our land back,” he said.
She instructed Kayah’s chief minister and its minister of border affairs and security to address the issue.
During the talk, which ran about 100 minutes, eight ethnic Kayah, Kayaw, Gaybar, Kayan, Inn and Shan youth representatives from the state raised their concerns about issues ranging from peace and equality to federalism, development, women’s affairs and ethnic literature and culture.
It was the fifth such peace talk the state counselor has hosted this year. At each one, issues of peace, development and national reconciliation dominated the discussions. The events have been generally well received as a boon for the country.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday reiterated the importance of the rule of law, warning cabinet members and civil servants at all levels to behave themselves and urging them to help move the country toward peace with compassion.
She held the first peace talk in Naypyitaw on the first day of 2017 and the second on Feb 12, Union Day, in Panglong in southern Shan State. The third talk was in Naypyitaw in April and the fourth in August in a village in Mandalay Region.
After her talk in August, with mostly ethnic Bamar in central Myanmar, some questioned whether the location was appropriate because residents of the area knew relatively little about war-torn regions.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi acknowledged that those who grew up in conflict zones were more familiar with the peace process than those who had not, residents of central Myanmar in particular.
Friday’s peace talk in Loikaw brought some hope to residents of Kayah State, which has suffered from civil war between ethnic Karenni armed groups and the Tatmadaw for the past sixty years. The Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) is currently in talk with the government about signing the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA); it signed a bilateral ceasefire with the Kayah State government in March 2012.
“It brings benefits to our state because the state counselor and the government might now know things about the state,” said Khu Peh Nyoe Reh, secretary of the Kayah National Literature and Culture Committee. He said the youth of Kayah State were able to raise some of their main concerns.
“We think she came to learn about the role of youth and the public’s concerns in our state,” said Khu Peh Nyoe Reh. “But we still have to discuss more about culture and ethnic literature issue.”
Daw Olivia, another peace talk participant, discussed the need to preserve ethnic literature and culture and to empower ethnic language teachers. Ethnic languages classes have been allowed in schools since 2013 but are hampered by a lack of resources, including teachers and materials.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi promised to raise the issue with the ministries of education and ethnic affair. “Not only the ethnic language teachers, but many teachers across the nation need to be empowered and are starting to be trained in modern teaching methods,” she said.
Since peace and development are interrelated, she said, people “should not worry too much” about the teaching of ethnic languages because it would improve once there was peace.
In order to achieve that peace, observers say, it is important to integrate public participation in the peace building process.
“The role of the public is lost,” lamented Khu Peh Nyoe Reh. “I think when public participation is real the pace of the peace process — whether or not the NCA is signed — will speed up.”
Friday’s peace talk never touched on the death of three KNPP soldiers and a civilian earlier this month, allegedly executed by the Tatmadaw.
Although such public interactions help raise awareness, the state counselor could do better in 2018 by having more direct contact with everyday people rather than chosen representatives, said political analyst U Yan Myo Thein.
And having observed the year’s peace talks, he said it was clear that the state counselor has done more talking than listening.
“She told the public to be good listeners and to report any corruption by the executive, civil servants or state legislators. But she does not know that people in this area live in fear, even from the local administrators. So it is the reverse, and she should be the one who listens carefully to the public,” he said.