NAYPYITAW (Reuters) - More of Myanmar’s ethnic minority rebel groups should be brought into peace talks and the effort to end conflict should not divide groups that are involved in negotiations and those that have shunned the process, Aung San Suu Kyi said on Tuesday.
Hundreds of representatives of guerrilla groups, the military and members of parliament, gathered in the capital, Naypyitaw, for the second stage of talks aimed at ending insurgencies that have plagued the country for decades.
The outgoing semi-civilian government of President Thein Sein signed what it called a nationwide ceasefire agreement in October, but seven of 15 rebel groups invited to participate declined to sign, including some of the most powerful.
Other groups were not invited to take part or showed little interest in the process.
Since the signing, fighting has erupted between the military and groups that did not sign the ceasefire and groups that did not take part in the negotiations, as well as between groups that signed and others that did not, further complicating the already daunting task of reaching sustainable peace.
“We need to work for all the ethnic armed groups to be participate in the NCA,” Suu Kyi said referring to the nationwide ceasefire agreement.
“It is important not to have conflicts between the ethnic armed groups which have signed the NCA and the groups which are still not involved in the agreement.”
Ethnic minority guerrillas have been fighting the central government for greater autonomy and rights since shortly after the country gained independence from Britain in 1948.
The military, which still wields huge influence under a constitution it drafted in 2008, has long portrayed itself as the sole power holding the ethnically diverse country together and it is widely seen as loath to give ground on minority demands for autonomy under a federal system.
Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy (NLD) swept a November election, said in an Independence Day speech last week that the peace process would be the first priority of her new government, which is due to take power in March.
But she and the NLD have said little publicly about how they intend to push the process forward.
Groups that chose not to sign the ceasefire have been invited to attend the latest talks, which could lay the groundwork for further negotiations once the NLD takes power.
Several of the insurgent groups are hoping that Suu Kyi’s standing and mandate will help her in bridging differences with the military.
“We have high expectations for Aung San Suu Kyi and her government to negotiate with the army chief - without the military’s involvement it will be impossible to end the fighting across the country,” said Saw Thamein Tun, a leader of the Karen National Union.
The gathering in Naypyitaw was also attended by President Thein Sein and the powerful army chief Min Aung Hlaing. The appearance of the two alongside Suu Kyi reflected what has been a smooth transfer of power.
Myanmar’s generals ran the country for 49 years, until 2011, when a hybrid civilian-military government was installed.
(Story refiled to edit headline to calls)
Writing by Timothy Mclaughlin; Editing by Robert Birsel