02/14/2013, 00.00
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Military remain main obstacle for govt-Kachin peace, Burmese dissident says

by Francis Khoo Thwe
Talks between representatives of Burma's ethnic minorities and government officials are set to take place next week. Aung San Suu Kyi could play a role in the peace process. Democratic Voice of Burma editor Aye Chan Naing is cautiously optimistic about his changing nation. However, the lack of infrastructure and decades of military mismanagement are a drag on economic development.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - The Myanmar government and the Myanmar armed forces have a different approach to the conflict with ethnic Kachin. Whilst the former are committed to peace talks with Kachin rebels, the latter are doing the opposite, said Aye Chan Naing, editor of the Democratic Voice of Burma, a media group founded by Burmese exiles in Oslo (Norway) that regularly reported on the violence by the military dictatorship against the civilian population and Buddhist monks.

In describing the bloody conflict in Kachin, a northern state on the border with China, Aye cited a key government negotiator who said that "both sides, army and the Kachin, do not listen to us".

Still, the Myanmar government and delegations from the country's ethnic minorities, including the Kachin, are set to meet on 20 February in Chang Mai, Thailand, to discuss a possible ceasefire in Kachin state as well as the bases for political talks with minority groups.

For her part, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said she was prepared to take part in peace talks. The Nobel Prize laureate also called on Myanmar military officials for a constitutional change that would allow her to run for president in 2015.

Against this backdrop of great ferment, Aye Chan Naing (pictured) said he was "optimistic about Burma's future". Although unhappy about how change is taking place and about the role the military are still playing, he concedes that "the situation is much better than before". In fact, the country's "future is much more hopeful than ever" and "we have a chance to work for it now."

For the editor of the Democratic Voice of Burma, the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) can use "her huge authority both nationally and internationally to ease tensions in a more aggressive way" in Kachin state.

However, she may "be limited in her role" because "she has become a member of parliament". Any change she may want to pursue "has to go through parliament."

For Aye, Aung San Suu Kyi's return to active politics is connected to changing relations with the West. Greater openness in that direction has not meant however ending the special relationship with mainland China, Myanmar's main trading partner.

"The Burmese are in general pro-American. The US has been an active supporter of Burma's democracy movement." Burma's hope is that "US involvement in Burmese politics and economy will balance China's influence" in the country.

Given the situation, Aye is cautiously optimistic about the economy. Even though "millions of dollars in loans from the international community will not lift Burma out of poverty and turn the country into Asia's next tiger because it still suffers from poor infrastructure, education, health care and long-time mismanagement" under the previous military junta, certain sectors like "telecommunication, energy, natural resources, tourism and media industry" could grow quickly.

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