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Suu Kyi highlights ethnics' plight

Care for ethnic groups must be more than just a show, she says

Internally displaced Kachins have fled to this camp to escape fighting Internally displaced Kachins have fled to this camp to escape fighting
  • John Zaw, Mandalay
  • Myanmar
  • July 26, 2012
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Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday used her first speech in Myanmar’s parliament to call for ethnic rights.

Supporting a motion by a ruling-party member of parliament on upholding the rights of the country’s many ethnic groups, the Nobel Peace Prize winner said the move was necessary to guarantee true democracy in Myanmar following decades of civil war between minorities and the army.

“The flames of war are not completely extinguished,” she told MPs in Naypyidaw.

Although the government has initiated ceasefires and peace talks with key ethnic insurgent groups including the Karen National Union whose armed wing has waged the longest-running civil war in the world, recent riots in western Rakhine State have led to renewed accusations of ethnic inequality.

The UN has previously labeled the Rohingyas - a Muslim minority that has borne the brunt of violent clashes in Rakhine State - the most persecuted ethnic group in the world.

Although the by-election that saw Suu Kyi elected a member of parliament on April 1 was considered a key part of Myanmar’s reform process, the government cancelled polls in three constituencies in northernmost Kachin State, due to clashes between insurgents and the army.

Ongoing fighting means the polls have still not been scheduled. Meanwhile, 70,000 displaced people remain in camps in Kachin State and across the border in Yunnan Province, China.

Tu Ja, the former head of the Kachin Independence Organization, the political wing of the insurgent army still fighting state forces, said Myanmar needed a second Panglong agreement to assure rights for minorities, a reference to the 1947 federalist deal between Suu Kyi’s father Aung San, the then leader of the country, and Kachin, Shan and Chin ethnic leaders.

“If we really want peace in this country we must collaborate with the ethnic groups and work together,” said Tu Ja, who is also an independent MP.

Bauk Ja, an MP from the National Democratic Force, the party which splintered from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy ahead of the 2010 general election, cautioned that it remained unclear whether or not the government and lawmakers were serious about guaranteeing ethnic rights in Myanmar.

“If we don’t have transparency and genuine attitudes, ethnic rights may not be achieved in ethnic regions,” she said. “It could just be a show for the international community.”

The US government has said peace in ethnic areas of the country is a one of a handful of conditions that the reformist government must achieve before remaining sanctions – including a ban on Myanmar’s imports – are fully lifted.

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