Suu Kyi Talks ‘Peace’ On Burmese New Year; Ethnic Leaders Respond

By Kyaw Kha 20 April 2016

Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Burma, highlighted internal peace and constitutional change in her speech to the people on the Burmese New Year. In reference to the 2015 nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), she said she appreciated the initiative undertaken by the previous government and that she would strive to include in the accord the organizations that her National League for Democracy-led (NLD) government deem appropriate for inclusion. Under the former administration, only eight—out of the country’s more than 20 non-state armed groups—signed the NCA; some organizations were excluded outright from becoming signatories.

Through peace conferences, Suu Kyi said her government would strive to build a “genuine federal democratic union” and that the military-drafted 2008 Constitution needs to be amended for this to be achieved. This process of constitutional change would not adversely affect Burma’s people, she promised.

The Irrawaddy’s Kyaw Kha spoke with three leaders belonging to ethnic nationalities or organizations that opted out of signing the NCA for its lack of inclusivity. In the commentary below, they explain their reactions to Suu Kyi’s speech and their expectations for renewing Burma’s peace process under an NLD administration.

•Nai Hong Sar: Nai Hong Sar, vice-chairman of the New Mon State Party. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)
Nai Hong Sar, vice-chairman of the New Mon State Party. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Nai Hong Sar, Vice-Chairman of the New Mon State Party (NMSP)

We share almost the same view. Therefore I guess there will be progress [in the peace process]. Again, we found that [the NLD’s] standpoint is to push wherever possible, for example, with the release of political prisoners. Political prisoners were released with a presidential pardon. [The new government] was brave to exercise their mandate to do what they felt they should do and we view it as a positive sign.

Again, [Suu Kyi] pointed out an inclusive ceasefire and the inclusion of all ethnic armed groups in a political dialogue. This is critically important. And it is strongly in agreement with our standpoint. How much can they exert influence over the military to push for [a ceasefire]? For us, we really want [a ceasefire]—we’ve been demanding it. If they [the NLD government] could convince the military, I believe [a ceasefire] would be done at the soonest.

Bawmwang Laraw, chairman of the Kachin National Organization. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)
Bawmwang Laraw, chairman of the Kachin National Organization. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Bawmwang Laraw, Chairman of the Kachin National Organization (KNO)

I welcome Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech. I share her view: nationwide peace must be built. Regarding the constitutional amendments, I think we need to sign a new ceasefire accord because the previous peace accord did not include provisions that provide changes to the 2008 Constitution. Therefore provisions that allow constitutional changes must be discussed and included in the peace pact. This is the way peace process should be implemented. We need to make sure it is all-inclusive if we are to create a nationwide ceasefire. [The NLD government] needs to seek guarantees for peace in implementing its nation-building policies. It is the right path for the new government, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, to strive for a ceasefire and to amend the constitution, because the 2008 Constitution is an obstacle to a federal union. To put it in a nutshell, I support and welcome [Suu Kyi ‘s plan to] build peace through a ceasefire and to talk with ethnic armed groups. I am very glad that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has announced that she will amend the constitution through such talks and build our country into a federal union.

Khu Oo Reh, vice-chairman of the Karenni National Progressive Party. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)
Khu Oo Reh, vice-chairman of the Karenni National Progressive Party. (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Khu Oo Reh, Vice-Chairman of the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP)

This is what everyone is expecting, I think. We’ve been working for national reconciliation and peace since the time of the previous government. And we are glad that the NLD government is giving top priority to national reconciliation and peace. We hope that they will implement it as quickly as they can.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that reconciliation needs to be built among all groups, as well as between people and the military. So, I think her view is not so different from ours.

For example, [reconciliation] can be between political parties, as well as between the military and ethnic armed groups or between ethnic armed groups themselves. It also can be reconciliation between ethnicities. In our country, groups and parties are divided in different ways, so I accept reconciliation under such circumstances and consider it necessary.

Public trust [in the government] has declined steadily since the military staged a coup. People have always been oppressed and therefore feel bitter. So, reconciliation is really needed between the military and the people. I think it is a dire need. Only after reconciliation is built between different groups and parties will we be able to proceed with the peace process that we want.

Trust is at the core of building reconciliation. Trust needs to be built first. Only when there is trust between each individual and each group, can the negotiation process of how to build peace together be smooth, I think. It is crucial.

I view what the State Counselor said about the peace process in her speech as a clear message to us. At the same time, it is informing the entire public. In my understanding, she has said that each citizen is responsible for taking part actively in national reconciliation and the peace process.

Translated by Thet Ko Ko.