ASEANews Headlines: YANGON- State Counsellor calls for open minds at peace negotiations

Saw Kwe Htoo Win arrives at Horizon Lake View Hotel after the talks in Nay Pyi Taw on Monday. Aung Myin Ye Zaw/The Myanmar Times

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State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday called for an open mind at ongoing negotiations to move forward the peace process aimed at ending the decades-old armed conflicts plaguing the country.

She made the appeal at the start of a five-day meeting of top government officials, Tatmadaw (military) leaders, and the 10 armed ethnic groups that have signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA).

The talks, held on the third anniversary of the NCA’s signing, are aimed at spurring the peace process, which has hit a stalemate over the issues of allowing states and regions to draw up their own constitutions and including a “non-secession” clause in the peace pact.

“The dream of a federal union is on one side and the 2008 Constitution is on the other,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said in a speech at the opening of the meeting in Nay Pyi Taw. “Between these two opposites, if the causes of the armed conflicts can be discussed one after another and we move forward one step at a time, we will come to the point where it is possible and convenient to implement it in practice. We will be setting up milestones along this path toward a democratic federal union.”

She said that while it is important that no state should secede during the process of building such a system, it is more important to cooperate with each other so that no one would even think about secession.

“Leaders who dare to make decisions are attending this meeting, so if a decision cannot be made here confidently, then we need to be aware that we will be failing in our responsibility to the people. It is extremely crucial to have courage to risk one’s life on the battlefield, but courage is also necessary to make decisions according to one’s true nature,” the State Counsellor said.

The meeting appeared to be off to a good start, as five agreements were reached in the first day. However, several issues remained unresolved.

After the meeting adjourned, Colonel Khun Okkar, chair of the Pa-O National Liberation Organisation, said, “We have reached agreement on five of the seven points that we proposed. Two important issues need to be discussed further.”

The State Counsellor urged coming up with more creative ways to implement a federal union that is acceptable to all sides.

Before the meeting, Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said “non-secession” should be a basic principle of the federal union.

He said the three main national causes need to be given top priority in the negotiations.

“In the discussions, we need to avoid matters that will cause disintegration of the country. The constitution states that no territory shall secede from Myanmar. That is why I say a “non-secession” clause is necessary and a guarantee of peace,” he said.

“It should be based on the three principles of freedom, equality and justice. It guarantees democracy, equality and the right of self-administration,” he added.

General Saw Mutu Say Poe, chair of the Karen National Union (KNU), said the differences of opinion between the government, military and armed ethnic groups on the issues of self-determination and non-secession need to be resolved in a practical way.

Another session of the 21st Century Panglong Conference is scheduled at the end of this year and another round in 2019. So far, three sessions have been held since the new government took power in 2016, but peace remains a distant dream.

The ongoing meeting is expected to finally break the impasse and lead to more productive peace negotiations.

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