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Myanmar opens fresh round of peace talks

  • Published at 12:18 pm May 24th, 2017
Myanmar opens fresh round of peace talks

Hundreds of representatives from Myanmar's ethnic insurgent groups gathered in the capital on Wednesday for talks aimed at reviving Aung San Suu Kyi's stuttering peace process after months of heavy fighting.

The discussions are her second attempt to end conflict in the country's troubled frontier regions, where various ethnic groups have been waging war against the state for almost seven decades.

But more than a year after the Nobel laureate became the head of Myanmar's first freely elected government in generations, little progress has been made on her flagship policy.

"The most important thing in the current situation is to be able to hold a meaningful conference," said ethnic affairs analyst Mg Mg Soe. "We cannot say it is a successful meeting if we do not get any agreement."

Many armed groups have complained that Suu Kyi has not listened to their concerns and is working too closely with the military, which ran the country with an iron fist for almost half a century and widely loathed by rebel groups.

None of them are expected to sign up to the National Ceasefire Agreement she is pushing, a controversial deal first touted by the previous military-backed government. But they are due to discuss for the first time whether states will be able to draft their own constitutions, something observers say is an important and symbolic step forward.

The talks come as violence in the northeast has reached its worst point since the conflict-ridden 1980s.

Tens of thousands of people have been forced to flee months of heavy fighting between the army and insurgent groups, many of them crossing into neighbouring China.

The 25,000-strong militia has brought together several groups still locked in combat with the military into a new negotiating bloc that is refusing to sign up to the government-backed ceasefire.

Suu Kyi defends slow process

Suu Kyi defending her government's stuttering attempts to end decades of fighting between the military and ethnic rebel groups.

Suu Kyi sought to dismiss criticism that little progress has been made on her flagship peace policy, more than a year after her party took power.

"Our collective efforts have started to bear fruit," she told the conference, according to an official translation of the speech. "We have now reached the stage where we are able to discuss the basic federal principles that are so important for our country and our people."

250 prisoners granted pardon

Meanwhile, Myanmar granted amnesty to more than 250 prisoners ahead of peace talks, including two activists sentenced to hard labour for their work promoting interfaith peace.

The president's office announced late Tuesday it would release 186 Myanmar nationals and 73 foreigners as a gesture of goodwill.

Among them were activists Zaw Zaw Latt and Pwint Phyu Latt, who were detained in 2015 after they travelled to the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army to deliver a Christian cross and a statue of Buddha as symbols of peace.

Last year they were jailed for two years with hard labour in a case that human rights activists slammed as politically motivated and pandering to a hate campaign by Buddhist nationalists.

They were among some 40 political prisoners, land activists, student activists and farmers greeted by jubilant well-wishers as they walked out of prison in Mandalay on Wednesday morning.

Myanmar Ethnic Groups

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