Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Aung San Suu Kyi Seeks Elusive Peace in Burma with Panglong Summit

Hannah Beech has written a good piece in the Time on Myanmar government's new effort to bring peace to the divided nation.
She writes, "Nearly seven decades after her father convened a conference on the future of one of the world’s most ethnically diverse nations, Aung San Suu Kyi on Aug. 31 kickstarted a new national reconciliation summit in Burma.
Dubbed the 21st century Panglong—after the town where national hero Aung San held his 1947 confab in the months before Burma’s independence from the British—Suu Kyi’s five-day peace conference boasts a formidable to-do list: ending some of the world’s longest running civil conflicts; reining in a powerful army with little respect for rebel militias; promoting trust among ethnic civilians who have endured decades of repression at the hands of the Burmese army and some of their own insurgents; and encouraging development in frontier lands that, despite Burma’s most bountiful natural resources, remain some of the poorest in an already poor nation...
During a Wednesday speech kicking off the peace effort, Suu Kyi, who is the nation’s State Counselor because an army-backed constitution precludes her from serving as President, struck a momentous tone: “This is a unique opportunity for us to accomplish a great task that will stand as a landmark throughout our history,” said the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, whose National League for Democracy (NLD) now runs much of the government. “Let us grasp this magnificent opportunity with wisdom, courage and perseverance and create a future infused with light.”"

She continues, "Separately, tensions remain high between ethnic Rakhine (or Arakanese) in the country’s far west and a mostly stateless Muslim population that calls itself the Rohingya. Since ethnic unrest broke out in 2012 in Rakhine (or Arakan) state, local authorities have confined some 120,000 Rohingya to squalid camps; thousands have tried to escape the country by a dangerous sea route. The 21st century Panglong conference, however, will not address the fate of the roughly 1.1 million Rohingya since they are not one of Burma’s recognized ethnic groups.
So sensitive is the fate of the Muslim minority, which many in Burma consider to be composed of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, that Suu Kyi’s NLD government has advised against even uttering the word “Rohingya.” Instead, the NLD administration has called for the term “Muslims in Rakhine” to be used. During a press conference with Suu Kyi on Aug. 30, U.N. Secretary General Ban described the persecuted group as “Rohingya” and urged equality and harmony for all people in Myanmar. The NLD has set up a special commission to investigate the situation in Rakhine state, which will begin sessions next week headed by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. There are no Rohingya on the commission.
Aung San, an ethnic Bamar and founder of the modern Burmese army, held his 1947 conference in the hill town of Panglong in order to gain support for independence from some of the former British colony’s most powerful frontier groups: the Shan, the Chin and the Kachin. Ethnic leaders were promised a federalist autonomy and even the possibility of seceding from the union should they prove dissatisfied with the new nation. But Aung San—father to Suu Kyi, as well as an entire nation—was assassinated months later, before Burma became independent in 1948. A coup in 1962, which ushered in army rule for nearly half a century, strangled the promise of Panglong. Many of the ruling junta’s generals earned their stripes battling ethnic militias, like the Karen who rebelled months after Burma became independent."

To read the entire piece, click here.

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