Published: Thu, September 01, 2016
Business | By Max Garcia

Myanmar's Suu Kyi kicks off peace conference with appeal for unity

Naypyitaw: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Myanmar to improve living conditions for its Rohingya Muslim minority on Tuesday, ahead of peace talks between leader Aung San Suu Kyi and numerous country's ethnic armed rebel groups.

Suu Kyi, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the head of armed forces Gen. Min Aung Hlaing are scheduled to give speeches at the opening of the talks.

As many as 120,000 Rohingya have been languishing in squalid displaced persons camps in western Rakhine state since 2012, when fighting broke out between Buddhist nationalists and Muslims.

Ban described the conference as "an important first step" toward peace at a press conference on the eve of the talks.

Last week Suu Kyi picked former United Nations chief Kofi Annan to lead a commission to stop human rights abuses in Rakhine.

Myanmar State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi delivers her address during the opening of a peace conference in Naypyidaw on August 31, 2016. But Aung San was assassinated the following year and the deal fell apart.

After Suu Kyi led her National League for Democracy to power in elections last November, she made the peace process a top priority for her government.

"Only if our country is at peace will we be able to stand on an equal footing with the other countries in our region and across the world", she said. The federal union that we are talking about is not about separating ourselves from the country.

People in traditional dress walk through the Union Peace Conference-21st Century Panglong, at the Myanmar International Convention Centre.

Suu Kyi has avoided promising comprehensive ceasefire arrangements or concrete settlements from the five-day talks.

The new government in Myanmar has undertaken efforts to make it more inclusive and the Panglong Conference is representing the results of those efforts, Ban said.

Delegates are expected to meet every six months to discuss major issues, ranging from security, political representation, language and culture to control of Myanmar's rich mineral resources. A joint military commission has been tasked with handling ceasefire, civilian protection and monitoring issues.

Monday's talks, held at Hyderabad House, were the first high-level interaction after the democratic government came to power in Myanmar after 57 years of military rule. "We learn from previous failures and strive to write and leave a successful history from now", she told the participants.

Several rebel groups have failed to down weapons - a precondition for them to attend - and remain wary of the ethnic-Bamar central authorities. The three groups have actively confronted the military in the past few years in the Kokang region, on Myanmar's border with China.

Unfortunately, armed conflicts are still occurring in parts of the eastern Shan state and in northern Kachin state. Yesterday, representatives from 17 groups turned up.

The 1947 deal granted ethnic minorities autonomy and the right to secede if they worked with the federal government to break away from Britain together. Hailing the conference as a historic transition, Ban pledged that the UN will continue efforts to smoothen the differences, lower tensions and move parties towards better understanding with the goals and values of the UN Charter, Xinhua news agency reported.

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