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Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi Say’s Securing Peace with Ethnic Minorities Priority One

Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said establishing peace with Myanmar’s ethnic minorities will be the single most important goal when her party forms the government in coming weeks

Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said establishing peace with Myanmar’s ethnic minorities will be the single most important goal when her party forms the government in coming weeks

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YANGON – In only her second public speech since the election in November, Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday marked the Southeast Asian country’s 68 years of independence from Britain by saying her National League for Democracy would make ending insurgent conflicts, some dating from the end of colonial rule, its top priority.

Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, spoke to hundreds of cheering party members and supporters at the site where the party is building a new multistory headquarters to replace the ramshackle structure that has been its base for decades. She likened the construction to rebuilding the country, which she said is “just maturing.’”

“Some people are worried to see changes in the country,” Ms. Suu Kyi said. “But changes happen every time and every second. It is nothing to worry about, and can be faced.”

The first thing her party will do, she said, is to establish a “just peace” between Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups. Though a cease-fire was reached by the outgoing military-linked government with several organizations last October, others refused to sign the agreement and continue to fight with the military in areas bordering China. A political dialogue is to start with the military and the ethnic groups included in the peace agreement later this month.

Armed ethnic groups have been in conflict with the military for decades, fighting for more independence in the ethnic minority regions they control. The conflict is wrapped up with issues of resource sharing, since many of these areas are where Myanmar’s most valuable natural resources—billion-dollar deposits of jade, gold, coal, tin and others—lie.

Ms. Suu Kyi said that her party plans to have its own congress with the ethnic groups aimed at a full peace and said it would be “all-inclusive.” She made no reference to the peace talks already planned. The process highlights an awkward reality as she prepares to tackle issues that will continue to officially be in the jurisdiction of the armed forces, which under the constitution picks ministers in charge of government-border areas and state security.

Ms. Suu Kyi didn’t provide any details on how the transition to an NLD government is proceeding. In recent weeks, she has met with the most senior military leadership. After Jan. 31, a new parliament with the NLD majority elected Nov. 8 will be installed. A quarter of the seats were constitutionally set aside for the armed forces and not contested.

The legislators will pick a new president by March, when incumbent Thein Sein’s term ends. The candidates cannot include Ms. Suu Kyi, who is barred by the constitution from assuming the top post because she has foreign children. However, she says she will lead the government from a position “above the president” if the document isn’t amended.

Despite assurances from the military and Ms. Suu Kyi’s party that the two sides continue to engage and will enter into an effective power-sharing agreement, worries persist about the nuts-and-bolts of what will be the biggest political change for the country in more than half-a-century. The peace agreement hammered out by the previous government, for example, though heralded by foreign governments and some ethnic groups, has never had Ms. Suu Kyi’s expressed support.

Even with pledges from armed forces commander-in-chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, there are no guarantees that the military will give way to a fully democratic government led by Ms. Suu Kyi or how it will respond to her picking a president she says she will control.

Ethnic groups worry that these tensions will permeate the sticky issue of the complex peace process, which they fear will become an awkward tussle between the military and the NLD government.

“We have to ask questions on whether she can actually influence the military, or whether they will influence her when it comes to the peace process,” Daung Khar, who leads the Kachin Independence Organization’s technical team, one of the groups that continues to have fierce battles with the armed forces, said in a telephone interview after Ms. Suu Kyi’s speech. “How she will compromise with the military is our key concern.”

By Shibani Mahtani And Myo Myo

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