Suu Kyi makes surprise appearance at peace talks

Aung San Suu Kyi adds creditability to the government’s troubled peace process. Source: Wikimedia

Aung San Suu Kyi’s surprise move to join Myanmar peace talks, which she had previously criticised as unrepresentative, could boost the chances of more rebel groups joining the process.

Despite her landslide win in November’s general election, Suu Kyi is still waiting to take power, and she shared the stage in the capital Naypyitaw with members of the former military junta who kept her under house arrest for years and imprisoned her allies.

Suu Kyi has spoken positively about working with the military and says she holds no grudges, despite the constitutional ban on her becoming president.

“We are ready to work for a lasting peace according to the mandate that the people gave us,” said Suu Kyi.

“We urgently need national reconciliation. We can’t build a long-term peace without it.”

She has previously dismissed the ceasefire agreed in October as a pre-election stunt by President Thein Sein to win votes in regions dominated by Myanmar’s ethnic minorities.

Only eight of the 22 significant rebel armies signed the so-called national ceasefire agreement.

“Today’s conference shows how the talks over the political transition and change of government in Myanmar are progressing unexpectedly quickly and smoothly as the parties learn to trust one another,” said Yohei Sasakawa, a peace envoy for Japan who has been involved in the talks for the last three years.

Suu Kyi appearance signalled to the rebel groups to trust her and return to the negotiating table, Sasakawa added.

“I think this has sent a very powerful message toward the groups that have thus far withheld their support for the ceasefire,” he said.

Appearing on the stage together were Thein Sein, Suu Kyi, army chief Min Aung Hlaing and other leading members of the former junta that ruled the country for 49 years until a semi-civilian government came to power in 2011.

Suu Kyi’s move was also seen as carrying risks by associating herself with a process she could not fully control.

Since October, the army attack rebel groups in the north and the east in Kachin and Shan, displacing thousands.

“In our country, we have many things to negotiate, as there are many key players, such as the army, the government and ethnic groups. So the discussions will take a long time,” said Sui Khar, a leader of the Chin National Front whose armed wing has fought the government for nearly 30 years.

Thein Sein told the 800-odd delegates: “I believe it will happen, one step at a time. We will gather facts and information from our discussions and carry them forward to another peace conference to be held during the new government’s term in office. For now, we can say that we are building a good foundation for the next conference.”