UNFC Reiterates Call for Suu Kyi’s Voice in Peace Talks

By Zarni Mann 26 November 2013

RANGOON — Leaders of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) have again called for Aung San Suu Kyi’s involvement in Burma’s ongoing peace process as a delegation of the ethnic alliance makes a historic visit to Rangoon.

“We would like her [Aung San Suu Kyi] to participate in the ceasefire talks as a witness and to be involved in the peace process as well,” said Nai Han Thar, general secretary of the UNFC, after representatives from the council met with the National League for Democracy (NLD) chairwoman for the first time at her lakeside residence in Burma’s commercial capital on Monday.

The UNFC leader said they would like Suu Kyi to participate in upcoming peace talks to be held in Hpa-an, Karen State, next month. The UNFC made a similar request in July, but several rounds of peace negotiations have taken place since without Suu Kyi’s involvement.

The meeting with Suu Kyi included discussions on how ethnic leaders and the pro-democracy icon could cooperate to achieve peace and genuine democracy for the country, according to Nai Han Thar.

The ethnic leaders also gave their input on amending Burma’s Constitution, which Suu Kyi is eager to revise. Both sides are in agreement on the need to change the Constitution, but their views appear to diverge on the question of to what degree the document should be altered.

Suu Kyi has largely pushed for the removal of a provision that bars her from becoming president, while the ethnic leaders expressed their support for completely overhauling the charter on the grounds that it fails to grant equal rights to all.

“When every citizen has an equal right to be president, that means we are practicing genuine democracy. That’s why it is necessary to amend the Constitution,” said Nai Han Thar.

The UNFC prefers that a new Constitution be written instead of amending the controversial current charter, which allows for amendments but requires the approval of a full 75 percent of lawmakers to do so.

The military-drafted Constitution was passed in a referendum in 2008, just a week after Cyclone Nargis devastated the country’s Irrawaddy Delta region. The result, in which more than 90 percent of voters supported the Constitution, was widely criticized as illegitimate.

Nai Han Thar cited the difficulty of amending the Constitution given the current political dynamics in Parliament, which guarantees 25 percent of seats to members of the military and is currently composed of another 51 percent of parliamentarians from the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

“We think that writing a new one will be much easier,” he said.

The ethnic leaders also pointed out that although Burma’s political system ostensibly allows for a degree of regional autonomy, most leaders of state-level governance are appointed by Naypyidaw.

“To have eternal peace in the country, it is important to have genuine federal state governance,” said Nai Han Thar.

Suu Kyi said on Monday that she would do her best to support the ethnic groups on their path to peace.

“Although I’m not involved in the whole process, I’ll do my best to support the needs of the ethnic peoples and work together for peace. But it would be unfair to urge the ethnic groups to do this or that. I believe they know what is in their own best interest,” Suu Kyi said.

Nai Han Thar and UNFC vice presidents David Thakapaw and Abel Twet arrived in Rangoon on Sunday at the arrangement of the government-linked Myanmar Peace Center (MFC) and Japan’s Nippon Foundation.  They are scheduled to visit Naypyidaw, but Nai Han Thar said that they would not meet with President Thein Sein due to the group’s limited time in the capital.