President to host ethnic leaders for Independence Day talks

President to host ethnic leaders for Independence Day talks

Columns of army, navy and air force personnel marched in parade past President Thein Sein for the first time in five decades as Burma marked the 67th anniversary of its independence on the morning of 4 January.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi did not attend the event in Naypyidaw, neither did Khun Htun Oo of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy.

The government had invited 16 armed groups to send representatives. The Karen National Union (KNU) and All Burma Students Democratic Front were among 13 militias whose leaders attended, however the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), Karenni National Progressive Party and Chin National Front did not send representatives.

Leaders of the ethnic armed groups are expected to have a private meeting with Thein Sein and Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing while in Naypyidaw.

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Hkun Okker of the Pa-O National Liberation Organisation, who also acts as spokesman for the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) representing the ethnic alliance at peace talks, said he hopes this meeting will lead to a political breakthrough in the quest to end decades of armed conflict.

“It has been a long time since the Grand Military Review parade has been held and we see that as a positive sign for the country,” he said.

“We hope that the meetings [with the president and military chief] later in the day can be politically significant. As far as I know, we are due to meet with the president on the morning on 5 January and then with the military commander-in-chief in the afternoon,” he said.

“We hope to find a political solution to the armed conflict through open and friendly dialogue.”

The KNU’s Saw Kwe Htoo Win confirmed a day earlier that KNU Chairman Muto Say Poe, [KNLA] Commander-in-Chief Gen. Saw Johnny and himself were invited to the parade and that all three would attend.

“As for the parade itself, we could just watch it on TV,” he said. “However, we heard there will also be a meeting with the president and that’s why we are going.”

The KIO, which is still engaged in day-to-day hostilities with Burmese government forces in Kachin and northern Shan states, was unavailable for comment.

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