RANGOON — Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s state counselor and de facto leader of the new National League for Democracy (NLD) government, met with eight non-state armed groups and the Burma Army on Wednesday, calling for the convening of a “Panglong-style” peace conference within two months and encouraging all stakeholders to help make that happen.
Speaking in Naypyidaw at a meeting with the Joint Monitoring Committee, a body that monitors adherence to the so-called Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) inked among those present, Suu Kyi said she “didn’t want to take much time before holding a Panglong-style conference.”
The Panglong Conference was convened by Suu Kyi’s father, Gen. Aung San, and leaders from three of the country’s ethnic minority groups on the eve of independence, and is widely praised for the spirit of inclusiveness and cooperation that it fostered between the dominant Burman majority and ethnic minorities at the time.
Suu Kyi on Wednesday emphasized that a lasting peace was vitally needed in Burma as civilians in conflict zones continued to suffer the daily hardships of poverty and war.
“I want [all parties] to try helping to hold the peace conference in one or two months because we need peace in our country. Our people are suffering every day due to the lack of peace. It is not a small suffering for a person who suffers from dangers 24 hours [a day],” said Suu Kyi.
She also said action would be more important than words in any accord to achieve a lasting peace, and urged all parties involved in the peace process to be committed to consolidating the ceasefire.
“In fact, achieving a firm, lasting ceasefire is a really important task. Signing [a ceasefire] is just a first step. If there is no genuine lasting ceasefire, we can’t move forward to peace,” Suu Kyi said.
Burma Army representatives including Lt-Gen Yar Pyae, who chairs the Joint Monitoring Committee, joined the eight groups that signed the NCA and were present at Wednesday’s meeting.
The Joint Monitoring Committee was formed last November under the administration of former President Thein Sein and includes representatives from the eight NCA armed group signatories, the military and former government, and a handful of outside civilians.
Notably absent from the Naypyidaw meeting were delegations from about a dozen other ethnic armed groups that have not signed the NCA, either due to abstention or exclusion by the previous government.
Suu Kyi, however, said the lack of inclusivity at the moment should not discourage stakeholders.
“Even though they [non-NCA signatories] are not yet included, we will try to include them. We need to consider about it. There is no reason that we can’t make it work if there is sincere empathy,” Suu Kyi contended.
The NLD chairwoman said she recognized the importance of the work done by the Joint Monitoring Committee, but would need to review and reform it if deemed necessary. She also welcomed advice and input from the committee in order to achieve a lasting peace.
“As I understand and have heard, almost 90 percent of ceasefire accords can be broken. So it shows that’s how important the work of the JMC [Joint Monitoring Committee] is,” said Suu Kyi.
Her coming evaluation will include an appraisal of who is best involved in the Joint Monitoring Committee, and of the pros and cons of the committee as currently constituted, with an eye toward possible reforms.
“The immediate job of the JMC is to respond to any violation of the ceasefire. For long-term purposes, we want to know how the JMC will participate in helping to further peace negotiations and peace conferences. We want to get good advice from them. We welcome it,” said Suu Kyi.
The challenges ahead are formidable, such as the obvious absence of a large majority of the nation’s myriad ethnic armed groups. The Karen National Union (KNU) and Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) are NCA signatories that sent representatives to Naypyidaw this week and wield considerable influence and manpower in their respective areas of control, but some of country’s largest non-state armies are non-signatories, including the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and United Wa State Army (UWSA).
Bertil Lintner, a Burma expert who has penned several books about the country, wrote this week that more than four-fifths of ethnic combatants nationwide owed allegiance to ethnic armed groups not signed on to the ceasefire and thus not in the room on Wednesday.