US delegation to meet ethnic groups

Nov 3, 2009 (DVB), The United States delegation currently in Burma will meet with representatives from several of the country's ethnic groups that have complained in the past of being sidelined in political negotiations.

Senior US official Kurt Campbell, who heads Washington's East Asia and Pacific Bureau, is due to meet with the coalition United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) and the Shan Nationality League for Democracy (SNLD), along with 10 other ethnic political parties.

Campbell is leading the most senior-level US delegation to visit Burma since former secretary of state Madeleine Albright in 1995.

Sai Leik, spokesperson for the SNLD, said that Campbell had written a letter explaining to them about the purpose of his visit and his intention to urge Burma's military regime to ensure dialogue with opposition groups prior to elections next year.

"SNLD is prepared for meeting with Mr Campbell and will present to him its stand in accordance with his mission," said Sai Leik.

"We are going to discuss with Mr Campbell about the real desire of ethnic leaders so he can understand them well. We will also ask him to meet with them, and in particular, we will raise the issue of reviewing the 2008 constitution," continued Sai Leik.

His comments were echoed by a member of the UNA secretariat, Ohn Tin, who urged the start of dialogue "that includes ethnic nationalities", and bringing to account "those who have violated human rights" in Burma.

Sai Lek said however that he was not hopeful that the junta would agree with the demands of the US delegation and ethnic nationalities.

"However, as a leading body of a country, whether it is an army or a democratic civilian government, it needs to know the true desire of ethnic nationalities," he said.

"Throughout military rule in Burma, the regime often says that there are 135 different ethnic groups in the country and without ethnic unity the country will be disintegrated. The question is, has the regime ever spent 135 seconds to listen to the desire of those ethnic groups?"

He added that ethnic groups had been denied meetings with foreign envoys in the past, including UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, and US senator Jim Webb. "So, how could we say that those previous meetings were for the entire populace?"

Campbell is was due to head to the remote capital Naypyidaw today to meet with government officials, before travelling to Rangoon where tomorrow he will hold a rare meeting with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Reporting by Nan Kham Kaew

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