Aung San Suu Kyi in spotlight at Myanmar peace meeting

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NAYPYIDAW: Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi will address ethnic armed groups Tuesday, organisers of a fresh round of peace talks said, after she outlined peace as a priority for her government when it takes power in March.

The political dialogue stage of talks between the government, army and ethnic rebels, encompasses key economic and social issues that have spurred the violence, including the ownership of natural resources.

Suu Kyi, who led her party to victory in Myanmar’s November elections, is expected to give an opening speech at the talks in the capital Naypyidaw.

It is a rare appearance for the democracy figurehead at the years-long peace process, which has been steered by the country’s reformist post-junta leadership.

The prisoner-turned politician has said ending decades of conflict between the military and a myriad of ethnic rebels will be the “first ever duty” of her government.

Hkun Okker, a member of the committee overseeing the peace dialogue, said Suu Kyi had accepted an invitation to deliver opening remarks.

“Aung San Suu Kyi said she would make the peace process a priority and we are very encouraged by her words,” he told AFP.

President Thein Sein and powerful army chief Min Aung Hlaing are also slated to attend the five-day talks.

However, some major armed rebel groups have shunned the talks with clashes ongoing in parts of the country.

Political dialogue is a central demand of the ethnic armed groups, who have fought for greater autonomy in the country’s mountainous and resource-rich borderlands for generations.

Thein Sein’s government, which replaced outright junta rule in 2011, has driven through a painstaking peace process.

In October, those efforts yielded a ceasefire with some rebel groups, but Thein Sein craves a binding nationwide truce.

PEACE MANDATE?

Ahead of last year’s election, analysts predicted Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy would struggle to win seats in ethnic areas.

But the NLD gained a thumping majority across the regional and national parliaments.

Questions remain over her uneasy relationship with the nation’s still hugely powerful military, who hold the key to securing a lasting peace.

Several major ethnic armies, including in war-torn northern Kachin and Shan states, have refused to sign up to a national truce until all groups are brought into the deal — notably smaller organisations locked in conflict with the military.

Tun Zaw, spokesman for the United Nationalities Federal Council which represents six armed groups, said his organisation was boycotting the talks because they lack “inclusively”.

Myanmar’s army partially justified its near half-century stranglehold on the nation because of fears that ethnic divisions would fracture the nation.

It has taken part in much of the peace process, but has continued to fight against rebels in some parts of the country.

A report in the state-backed New Light of Myanmar last week said several soldiers had died in recent clashes in western Rakhine state, adding that the military had vowed to continue its offensives “until the area is cleared of all insurgents”.

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