CHIANGRAI TIMES – Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi met Sunday with Karen ethnic minority rebels in her first significant foray into politics since her election to public office a week earlier.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who won her first-ever seat in parliament in April 1 by-elections, held about two hours of talks with delegates from the Karen National Union in Yangon.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) leader described the meeting as a “significant event” that would help to foster national reconciliation.
She added: “As the NLD’s goal is to have true democratic unity, we believe all ethnicities should be included in this process together.”
The talks came a day after the KNU delegates met Myanmar’s reformist President Thein Sein in the capital Naypyidaw for the first time.
Myanmar considers the group — whose leadership is based in Thailand — to be an illegal organisation.
Its armed wing has been waging Myanmar’s longest-running insurgency, battling the government since 1949 in the eastern jungle near the Thai border.
The KNU signed a pact with the new reform-minded government in January this year in a move that raised hopes of a permanent end to one of the world’s oldest civil conflicts.
KNU general secretary Zipporah Sein said her group had asked Thein Sein to reconsider the ban on her organisation because its status “is a danger, scary and worrisome for the people in this country.”
Suu Kyi, who has suggested she will use her position as a lawmaker to try to help resolve the ethnic issue, said it would be better if there were no banned organisations in Myanmar.
The NLD leader is largely well-regarded in minority areas, but she is also seen as a member of the majority Burman elite.
Civil war has gripped parts of the country formerly known as Burma since its independence in 1948, and an end to the conflicts is a key demand of the international community.
Tentative peace deals have been inked with several rebel groups as part of the government’s reform agenda, but ongoing fighting in northern Kachin state has overshadowed the reconciliation effort.
On Friday the KNU and the government negotiated a 13-point deal, including a code of conduct to ensure civilian safety and an agreement to make plans for the resettlement of internal refugees and de-mining.
The Karen, one of at least 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar, make up about seven percent of Myanmar’s population.
Fighting and human rights abuses in Karen state have forced tens of thousands of refugees across the border into Thailand.