Suu Kyi Attends High-Level Peace Team Meeting

By Htet Naing Zaw 23 July 2013

RANGOON — Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi attended a Union Peacemaking Working Committee meeting for the first time at the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) on Sunday.

Her appearance came about a week after President Thein Sein announced during his European tour that a nationwide ceasefire with ethnic armed groups would “very possibly” materialize “over the coming weeks.”

It also followed a request from the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), a coalition of 11 of Burma’s ethnic armed groups, calling for Suu Kyi’s participation in their next round of talks with the Burmese government’s peace delegation.

Hla Maung Shwe, a senior advisor from the MPC, said Suu Kyi’s attendance on Sunday was not in any official capacity. Rather, the National League for Democracy (NLD) chairwoman was allowed to join in the discussion in an informal role with the permission of Shwe Mann, speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, and the Union Peacemaking Team’s Central Committee.

“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi spent 13 minutes in discussions,” Hla Maung Shwe said.

The Union Peacemaking Team was reorganized in May to liaison with ethnic armed groups in ceasefire negotiations. It is divided into two parts—the Central and Working committees—with the president, vice president, government ministers, heads of divisions, members of Parliament and the chief of Burma’s armed forces, Gen Min Aung Hlaing, all included on both committees.

Hla Maung Shwe said now was the time to only implement and reinforce the various ceasefire agreements reached with armed ethnic rebel groups across the country, an approach to the peace process that some ethnic leaders have said is too narrow and doesn’t sufficiently emphasize the need to simultaneously begin a political dialogue between the parties.

The MPC official said he hoped Suu Kyi, ethnic leaders and other peace process participants would be involved in the next step: framework meetings for political dialogue.

Win Tin, a founding member of Suu Kyi’s NLD, said the government should continue moving toward establishing a political dialogue instead of remaining fixated solely on achieving a nationwide ceasefire agreement. He added that he feared the government would use Suu Kyi to win the confidence of ethnic peoples, and as a ploy to pump international assistance into Burma’s peace process.

“I’m afraid that the government will use Daw Suu just to get a ceasefire, instead of moving ahead [with a political dialogue],” he said.

Shan National League for Democracy spokesman Sai Nyunt Lwin said his party welcomed Suu Kyi’s involvement in the peace process, and would be interested to see how the Nobel laureate takes take part in the peacemaking effort.

A nationwide ceasefire agreement and initiation of a political dialogue between the government and opposition forces, including ethnic groups, would likely smooth the holding of elections in 2015 and the country’s democratic transition, and could also bolster the reputations of Suu Kyi and Shwe Mann, according to Yan Myo Thein, a Burmese political analyst.

Both political leaders have expressed interest in running for the presidency in 2015.

“Even though all-inclusiveness could lead to positive developments, we should be aware that too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the broth,” Yan Myo Thein said.