Thein Sein Talks Peace with Ethnic Parties

By Lawi Weng 6 August 2012

Nationwide ceasefires and achieving permanent peace were discussed during a meeting between Burmese President Thein Sein and leaders from 14 different political parties in Naypyidaw on Saturday.

Those present debated how to enable economic development in ethnic minority areas which have been ravaged by decades of civil war. Sai Late, a spokesperson for the Shan National League for Democracy (SNLD), asked for a timeframe for the peace process.

“We want the government to have timeframe and announce when a nationwide ceasefire with all ethnic armed groups will come about,” he told The Irrawaddy on Monday. “And to bring all of them to one table and discuss how to find a political solution.”

Sai Late added that a political solution cannot be found by the government forcing ethnic rebel groups to disarm and form political parties to join the Parliament.

“No one will disarm even if the government orders them to do so,” he said. “This is why I propose holding a meeting with all ethnic armed groups included political parties out of the Parliament.”

Thein Sein appealed to all political parties to help the peace process as without their cooperation and that of civil organizations his work would fail. He added that everyone must be tolerant as ethnic conflicts were rooted over five decades and could not be solved quickly.

But the president did not include any mention of the Panglong Agreement despite leaders of the minority groups suggesting a conference similar to that held by independence hero Gen Aung San, the father of current opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, where the historic document was signed.

“There should be a nationwide ceasefire in order to have a stable political system in the country,” said Gin Kan Lian, the secretary of the Zomi Congress for Democracy Party.

The 14 political parties are preparing to join the next general election in 2015 as they were officially allowed to register after the historic by-elections on April 1. Many ethnic political parties who opposed the 2008 Constitution and subsequent widely-condemned 2010 ballot have now decided to register as political parties after Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won 43 seats this spring.

Aye Thar Aung, the secretary of the Arakan League for Democracy, said that a real democracy requires more than just a Parliament and elections every five years. He urged Thein Sein to amend undemocratic articles in the 2008 Constitution such as the 25 percent of parliamentary seats guaranteed for the military.

“We all want to have peace, but why do we not have it now? We need to think and find out the right method to have genuine peace,” said Aye Thar Aung.

Some representatives also brought up the issue of the suspended news journals in Rangoon and Thein Sein explained that his administration is currently trying to foster stability in the three main branches of government—the executive, legislative and judiciary.

The press is the fourth task for his government, he said, adding this could only be achieved once the principle trio had been adequately reformed.

Different minority leaders also discussed the rule of law and how to decide which foreigners living in Burma should be permitted identity papers. Ethnic languages and literature being including in the school curriculum as well as possible solutions to the Arakan conflict were also pondered.

The meeting included representatives from groups including the SNLD, National Unity Party, New National Democracy Party, Myanmar New Society Democratic Party, National Congress Party, Rakhine League for Democracy, Mon Democracy Party, Zomi Congress for Democracy Party and Kayin People’s Party among others.