Thein Sein Meets Ethnic Leaders

By Lawi Weng 14 February 2013

RANGOON — Burma’s President Thein Sein promised during a meeting with representatives of nine ethnic armed groups in Naypyidaw on Wednesday that his government would soon initiate a political dialogue aimed at national reconciliation, but declined to say when it would begin.

The one-hour meeting with Shan, Mon, Karen, Pa-O, Chin, Arakanese and other ethnic leaders came a week before the government’s peace negotiating team is expected to hold talks in neighboring Thailand with the United Nationalities Federal Council, an umbrella group of ethnic militias.

During the meeting, the president acknowledged that since Burma achieved independence from British rule 65 years ago, successive governments had failed to achieve unity and lasting peace with the country’s many ethnic minorities.

However, he said that a recent tentative agreement reached with the Kachin Independence Organization, whose armed wing has been fighting government forces for the past year and a half, could pave the way for a renewed effort to achieve peace.

“The government made a peace deal with the Kachin and this might be a good sign to have political dialogue soon,” said Nai Tala Nyi, an executive member of the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and one of the participants in Wednesday’s meeting.

“He told us his government will hold a political dialogue soon, but he didn’t set an exact date for it,”  added the Mon leader.

To prepare for peace, Thein Sein said, ethnic armed groups should focus their attention on improving life in their respective regions.

“He told us to develop our ethnic areas while we are waiting to have political dialogue with the government,” said Nai Tala Nyi, adding that the president also mentioned that the government had agreed to allow international aid groups to assist displaced civilians in conflict zones.

Asked if the NMSP trusted the president to follow through on his promises, Nai Tala Nyi said: “We believe that it is inevitable for the government to engage in a political dialogue if they want to have peace and development in the country. We just don’t know how they will do it, or when.”