Myanmar Christian leaders meet Suu Kyi in war-torn state

State counselor pushes govt peace efforts, churchmen seek help for those displaced by Kachin conflict
Myanmar Christian leaders meet Suu Kyi in war-torn state

Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi met with Catholic and Baptist church officials in Kachin State on March 28. (Photo by Noel Celis/AFP)

Myanmar's State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi made a rare visit to conflict-stricken Kachin State where she met civil society groups and Christian leaders to promote her national peace initiatives.

Catholic and Baptist church officials were among the civil society groups and community leaders who attended a two and half hour-long meeting with Suu Kyi in Myitkyina, the Kachin State capital on March 28.

During the meeting, Suu Kyi stressed the importance of ethnic groups joining the ongoing 21st Century Panglong peace conference, which is meant to occur every six months. The next one is to be held in May.

According to those at the meeting, the 71-year-old Nobel laureate emphasized the significance of all armed ethnic groups signing the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) which will allow them to join the talks.

Leaders from both the Catholic and Baptist churches agreed that Suu Kyi's visit would help build trust between the government and armed ethnic groups such as the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in northern Myanmar.

Manam Tu Ja, a Catholic and chairman of the Kachin State Democracy Party in Kachin State, told that Suu Kyi's visit was aimed at trying to ensure that the peace conference is all-inclusive.

"She gave a message to the KIA to sign the NCA so they could attend the next conference," said Tu Ja.

In 2011, conflict resumed between the KIA and the military ending a 17-year ceasefire agreement. Since then more than 100,000 civilians have been displaced and remain in camps in Kachin and northern Shan states.

Khin Zaw Win, a Yangon-based political analyst, said Suu Kyi's visit to Kachin was about pushing for the peace that her government promised.

During the meeting, Rev. Hkalam Samson, general secretary of the Kachin Baptist Convention, said among the issues he raised with Suu Kyi were those focused on the internally displaced people (IDP) camps and restrictions on humanitarian aid. International food deliveries to around 42,000 IDPs have been blocked for months in both Kachin and Shan states.

Steven Tsa Ji, general secretary of the Kachin Development Networking Group, a civil society organization in Kachin State, says Suu Kyi needs to appreciate the reality for those people currently living in the camps.

During her visit to Kachin State, Suu Kyi also visited two IDP camps in Waimaw township, near Myitkyina where more than 2,500 people have lived since renewed fighting erupted in 2011.

On March 30, five ethnic armed groups — the Karenni National Progressive Party, New Mon State Party, the Arakan National Council, Lahu Democratic Union and the Wa National Organization of the ethnic alliance of the United Nationalities Federal Council — said they will sign the NCA, according to the state counselor's office.

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