Burma’s military-backed President Thein Sein had an hour-long meeting with the country’s democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi on August 19. It is one of a number of indications of reform from the Burmese government.
The meetings with Suu Kyi, a visa allowance to the United Nations’ human rights envoy, a call for peace deals with rebellious ethnic armed groups and correction of disgraced slogans against international media seemed to be good signs. However, the Thein Sein government turns a deaf ear to calls for the release of political prisoners. Besides, the government repeatedly declares the National League for Democracy, led by Suu Kyi, an unlawful party.
In addition, the Thein Sein government does not candidly offer peace talks to ethnic groups. The government has constantly offered a bi-lateral talk policy to ethnic armed groups.
The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) has rejected an offer of new peace talks from the Burmese government, according to a statement released on August 18. The government’s offer was rejected because it did not include country-wide political dialogue but only talks with each individual ethnic armed group, quoting Salang Kaba Lar Nan, Joint General Secretary-2 of the KIO, Kachin News Group said.
According to Lar Nan, the peace offer statement lacks political dialogue. The government forces the ethnic groups to talk under the rule of the military-centered 2008 Constitution. As the ethnic armed groups did not agree to the 2008 Constitution, the government peace offer seems to be empty.
The KIO has experienced bi-lateral talks with the Burmese Socialist Programme Party, State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), and State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Every round of talks failed, Lar Nan said.
Until now, peace negotiations have failed because the KIO desires to solve the country’s political problems based on the 1947 Panglong Agreement, but the government is intent on negotiations based on the 2008 Constitution.
On August 12, Kyan Hsan, Information Minister of the Thein Sein government, led the first press conference in Naypyitaw. During the press panel, Kyaw Hsan urged the NLD to reregister as a party if they wished to take part in the affairs of state. In reality he was pressuring the NLD and Suu Kyi to accept the constitution. Currently, the NLD refuses to work under the 2008 Constitution, which has been disregarded by most ethnic armed groups including Kachin, Shan and Karen.
Most political prisoners in various prisons throughout Burma also do not agree with the military-made constitution. It is clear that the problem of the 2008 Constitution is a sticking point between the President Thein Sein government and the opposition parties including ethnic rebels and Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD.
Then, what is the meaning of the government’s moves? Its current moves – meetings with Suu Kyi, meeting with the United Nations’ human rights envoy and a statement calling for peace deals with rebellious ethnic armed-groups – are not likely meant for real political change.
Many observers believe that the Burmese government has been trying to gain the ASEAN chair before it started political reforms. So, current moves of the government aim to achieve ASEAN chairmanship without freeing prisoners of conscience.
The ASEAN leaders may count meeting the with Suu Kyi as a positive sign. But ASEAN should not consider such a hollow move as a positive and the association has to recognize that there are 2,000 political prisoners in Burma’s jails. Besides, the key question of civil war with ethnic groups is still in deadlock.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi released a statement dated June 20 calling both government and KIO to stop heavy fighting immediately in order to protect people’s lives and properties.
The said statement also called for peaceful talks between stakeholders to settle down the decades long political crisis of the country.
Unless there is genuine movement toward political change initiated by the government, such as releasing political prisoners and genuine talks with all political stakeholders, Burma’s six-decade long political stalemate will not be addressed easily.