Burma’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday urged all parties involved in the country’s peace process to convene nationwide peace talks without further delay — but not everybody present was keen on the plan.
Speaking for the first time with representatives of the ceasefire Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) at the Horizon Lake View Hotel in Naypyidaw, Suu Kyi suggested moving forward with talks while simultaneously working to bring new parties on board as the process progresses.
“The efforts to convene the peace talks and get every necessary party on board should be carried out in parallel, not one after another,” she said.
“By strengthening the ceasefire we have now and making evident the positive outcomes of a strong ceasefire to the public, we can entice the remaining parties to join in and pave the way for peace talks that can promise us perpetual peace.”
Dubbing the proposed talks a “21st-Century Panglong Conference” — a reference to the negotiations that her father, independence hero Aung San, held with ethnic leaders in 1947 to usher in Burma’s independence the following year — Suu Kyi said she would like to see them start “within a month or two”.
However, some in attendance at yesterday’s meeting said they saw the move as unrealistic.
“I would like to be practical about this. We must consider whether just a couple of months would be enough time. We are talking about more than 60 years of armed conflict, not just an ordinary conflict,” said Khu Oo Reh, a representative of the United Nationalities Federal Council, an ethnic umbrella group that includes several signatories to last year’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).
In addition to the eight ethnic armed groups that signed the NCA, the JMC includes representatives from Burma’s armed forces and civilian peace negotiators. Its current meeting in Naypyidaw is due to conclude today.
Others were more receptive to Suu Kyi’s proposal, but remained noncommittal about their views on its prospects for success.
“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi encouraged us to convene the peace talks within a couple months, expressing her ambition to make it happen,” said Saw Matthew Aye, a Karen pastor and member of the JMC. “There are currently just eight groups that are signatories to the NCA, so we’ll have to focus on getting the rest on board.”
Meanwhile, some others took issue with Suu Kyi’s decision to describe the proposed peace talks as a second Panglong Conference.
“It’s possible we could make [this dialogue] happen, but we object to the use of the term ’21st-Century Panglong Conference’, as we feel that it was under the original Panglong Agreement that we became subordinate to the ethnic Burmans,” said Saw Than Myint, chairman of the Federal Union Party, consisting of former members of 16 ethnic political parties.
Speaking to DVB after yesterday’s meeting, Khu Oo Reh also questioned whether Suu Kyi’s determination to revive her father’s legacy was really in the best interests of advancing the peace process.
“This is a conflict based on political issues, and in my opinion we must deal with these issues one at a time. Otherwise, there would be just a superficial dialogue with no peace in sight — just a record that we held another Panglong Conference,” he said.