Myanmar's State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi made a rare visit to conflict-stricken Kachin State on Tuesday, where she met civil society groups and Catholic and Baptist church officials to promote her national peace initiatives.
During the meeting, Suu Kyi emphasized the significance of all armed ethnic groups signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) which will allow them to join the talks. She also stressed the importance of ethnic groups joining the ongoing 21st Century Panglong peace conference, which is meant to occur every six months. The next one is to be held in May.
Leaders from both the Catholic and Baptist churches agreed that Suu Kyi's visit would help build trust between the government and armed ethnic groups such as the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in northern Myanmar.
Manam Tu Ja, a Catholic and chairman of the Kachin State Democracy Party in Kachin State, told ucanews.com that Suu Kyi's visit was aimed at trying to ensure that the peace conference is all-inclusive. "She gave a message to the KIA to sign the NCA so they could attend the next conference," said Tu Ja.
During the meeting, Rev. Hkalam Samson, general secretary of the Kachin Baptist Convention, said among the issues he raised with Suu Kyi were those focused on the internally displaced people (IDP) camps and restrictions on humanitarian aid. International food deliveries to around 42,000 IDPs have been blocked for months in both Kachin and Shan states.
Steven Tsa Ji, general secretary of the Kachin Development Networking Group, a civil society organization in Kachin State, says Suu Kyi needs to appreciate the reality for those people currently living in the camps.
During her visit to Kachin State, Suu Kyi also visited two IDP camps in Waimaw township, near Myitkyina where more than 2,500 people have lived since renewed fighting erupted in 2011.
On March 30, five ethnic armed groups — the Karenni National Progressive Party, New Mon State Party, the Arakan National Council, Lahu Democratic Union and the Wa National Organization of the ethnic alliance of the United Nationalities Federal Council — said they will sign the NCA, according to the state counselor's office.
In 2011, conflict resumed between the KIA and the military ending a 17-year ceasefire agreement. Since then more than 100,000 civilians have been displaced and remain in camps in Kachin and northern Shan states.
Khin Zaw Win, a Yangon-based political analyst, said Suu Kyi's visit to Kachin was about pushing for the peace that her government promised.
Meanwhile on Thursday, as reported by Associated Press, Suu Kyi said she is prepared to step down if people end up dissatisfied with her leadership. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy took power amid high expectations after a landslide election victory over a military-supported party and five decades of army rule in the impoverished country. While her government has enacted major reforms, its performance has fallen short of high expectations.
Myanmar's citizens are also aware that her government is limited by an army-imposed constitution that gives the military veto power over most substantive legislation, making real change difficult. Suu Kyi also reiterated her government's stance that Myanmar will not accept an international investigating commission to look into communal tensions in the western state of Rakhine, where the Muslim Rohingya minority faces severe discrimination and what the United Nations calls major human rights violations during army sweeps seeking insurgents.
The U.N. Human Rights Council recently called for an independent international body to look into the issue, but Myanmar officials have insisted their own investigations are sufficient. Suu Kyi's office announced after her speech that five ethnic minority factions agreed to sign a cease-fire agreement her government promoted. Many of the ethnic groups have been conducting on-again, off-again armed struggle for autonomy since Myanmar _ then called Burma _ became independent from Britain in 1948. Several of the larger and more powerful ethnic guerrilla armies have not signed the cease-fire pact. (UCAN, AP)