Suu Kyi vies for crucial ethnic support

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in northern Burma’s Kachin state yesterday, the latest stop on her campaign trail, where she urged thousands of supporters to back her in the looming by-elections.

The Nobel laureate has been criticised for her perceived tentative response to the ongoing war in the state, but told crowds in the towns of Namtee and Mogaung that she would fight for a rekindling of the Panglong Agreement, a deal cut in 1947 by the government of Aung San, her father, to grant Burma’s major ethnic groups autonomy.

“Prior to [1947], we had our own separate ways, whether as Burman, Shan or Kachin,” she said. “But in 1947, the majority Burman and other ethnic nationalities signed an agreement in Panglong town in Shan state that independence would be achieved sooner if we worked together hand in hand.”

She continued that her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), “has always aimed for the unity among the ethnic nationalities”.

The thousands of supporters were urged to back NLD candidate Khin Kyi, who is competing in Mogaung town. Her task will be a tough one, however: also contesting the Mogaung seat is Dr Tuja, the former chairman of the Kachin Independence Organisation, which enjoys widespread support across the state and whose armed wing is currently battling government troops.

Suu Kyi was warned last year that without ethnic support, she would not be an effective leader. Colonel Ner Dah, from the Karen National Liberation Army, said in an interview with DVB that she would win the hearts of the country’s myriad ethnic groups if she “speaks out” for them.

“But if she shows that she’s not aware of the ethnic differences and problems, then she will lose their backing.”

Suu Kyi emphasised during her speech however that development of Kachin state would be impossible unless fighting there ends. That region has epitomised more than anywhere the disparity between the political reforms enacted by the government, and ongoing status quo in the borderlands, some of which have been ravaged by conflict for more than 60 years.

Her offer of mediation in the Kachin war however has won her admiration among the state’s inhabitants. A woman in the state capital of Myitkyina, where Suu Kyi also campaigned, said the 66-year-old was capable of bringing development to the region.

“I also want to tell her to mediate for an end to the fighting in Kachin state, which has led to a deterioration of everything including the economy. I wish she would fix that too.”

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