Myanmar to Hold Peace Talks with Ethnic Groups in May

Myanmar (Tasnim) – Myanmar will hold peace talks next month aimed at ending decades-long ethnic wars that have intensified since Aung San Suu Kyi’s party took power a year ago, it was announced Tuesday.

Negotiators for the ethnic groups want the talks, which were pushed back from February due to a surge in fighting and political backbiting, to broach the issue of a federal power arrangement, AFP reported.

Ethnic fault lines have fractured the nation since it gained independence from Britain in 1948 and Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate, has made peace a priority of her new government.

But she has made little progress in sealing a peace deal since the first round of the so-called “21st Century Panglong” talks were held last year.

Clashes between the army and insurgents on Myanmar’s eastern borders have since reached their worst point in decades, sending tens of thousands fleeing their homes.

Government spokesman Zaw Htay said the next round of talks would begin on May 24 and last five days.

Col Khun Okka, an ethnic negotiator, said they would aim to flesh out the key issue of what a new national federal system could look like.

“If we can lay out the basic agreement on a federal system, I can say it would help a lot,” said Khun Okka, chairman of the Pa-O National Liberation Organization.

Discontent with Suu Kyi’s government has been growing among ethnic minorities, some of whom say she is working too closely with the military that ran the country for almost 50 years.

Under the constitution, the army still controls a quarter of parliamentary seats and the ministries of borders, home affairs and defense.

Suu Kyi’s NLD party lost several seats to ethnic parties in by-elections last month that were seen as a test of her popularity after a year in office.

“Ethnic people are not interested in the peace process as there has been a lot of fighting since the first meeting,” said Sai One Lang Kham, an MP from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy.

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By DFID – UK Department for International Development – Emergency food, drinking water and shelter to help people displaced in Rakhine State, western Burma., CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Analysts have criticized Suu Kyi for pushing a partial ceasefire deal first touted by the former military-backed government in 2015, which requires groups to lay down their arms before talks.

Several of the most powerful groups, including the China-backed United Wa State Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), have grouped together to reject the agreement and call for international mediation.

“As long as the intentional attacks to the ethnic groups are still going on, all the works by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will be lost,” KIA spokesman Daung Khar said, using a Myanmar honorific.

This report prepared by Tasnim News Agency