US Ambassador to Talk With Mon, Karen Leaders

By Lawi Weng 11 January 2013

America’s top diplomat in Burma is set for meetings with ethnic Mon and Karen leaders to discuss peace processes in their states, according to Mon sources.

Derek Mitchell, the US ambassador to Burma, is also expected to ask about the escalating war in northern Kachin State, a top ranking official with the New Mon State Party said.

On Saturday, Mitchell and leaders from three political parties—the New Mon State Party (NMSP), the Mon Democracy Party (MDP) and the All Mon Regions Democracy Party (AMRDP)— will meet for dinner at Strand Hotel in the Mon state capital of Moulmein.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Friday, Nai Tala Nyi, an executive committee member of the NMSP, said Mon leaders wanted to form a united front with other ethnic groups in peace negotiations.

“Our political stand is based on UNFC policy,” he said, referring to an alliance of major ethnic armed groups called the United Nationalities Federal Council. “We won’t have political talks with the government unless all of our ethnic armed groups have a representative at the table.”

The UNFC has also said that if the government does not stop the war in north Burma, its members would be forced to revoke their own ceasefire agreements and resume fighting.

Nai Tala Nyi, who will attend the meeting with Mitchell, added: “We’ll tell the ambassador that the government should stop fighting in Kachin State if it wants to have peace in this country.”

Min Soe Linn, a secretary for the MDP, said he hoped for a substantial discussion at the meeting on Saturday.

“He [the ambassador] invited us to dinner,” he said. “I hope this isn’t just a dinner and that he really talks with us about the current peace processes in our country.”

If asked about the war in Kachin State, Min Soe Linn said he would tell the ambassador that the escalating conflict indicated the government did not seem to genuinely desire peace.

He said the government’s top leaders had made political changes for their own benefit, hoping to attract foreign investment in the country that could create more job opportunities and encourage more people to vote for them in later elections.

“They are not different from the last military government,” he said. “They’ve only changed their clothes.”

Nai Ngwe Thein, chairman of the AMRDP, urged a permanent peace.

“Without peace, we can’t have political talks,” he said. “The government isn’t really sincere right now in the peace process.

“I really sympathize with the Kachin people, as fighting continues to get worse,” he added. “They’re forced to live in poor conditions, with poor education opportunities and a poor economy, and the government doesn’t care about them.”

Nai Ngwe Thein added that the government could not secure peace anywhere in the country if its army continued to launch attacks in Kachin State.

Mitchell, who has expressed concern about the Kachin conflict to key government officials, is set to visit Karen State on Sunday, meeting with local leaders in the state capital of Pa-an.

Ethnic groups around the country are pushing for greater autonomy from the national government through a federal system.

In early December, President Thein Sein visited Mon State and encouraged ethnic leaders to fight for political change in Parliament. But because the military and representatives from the government hold the majority of seats, ethnic leaders say it is nearly impossible for them to secure political resolutions by amending the 2008 Constitution.

“Our party leaders won’t join Parliament because we’ve already seen that we can’t win our fight there,” said MDP secretary Min Soe Lin.

Ethnic leaders of Burma are calling for a type of tribal political dialogue, which they believe can help resolve political conflicts in many of the country’s ethnic states. They allege that the national government has neglected their request.

“Parliament has to approve any agreements we make in our political dialogue currently,” Min Soe Lin said. “Otherwise the peace processes can’t go forward.”

Meanwhile, ethnic leaders have criticized Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi for keeping quiet on the war in Kachin State.

Nai Han Thar, secretary of the UNFC alliance of ethnic armed groups, said he thought Suu Kyi may not have spoken up yet because she wanted to maintain relations with the government, or because she did not understand the feelings of ethnic groups in the country who had long suffered through political and armed conflicts.