Cessation of Hostilities a Must to Kick-start Peace Process: Interview with CNF Foreign Affairs Secr
22 November 2011 – [CG Note: Dr. Sui Khar is Foreign Affairs Secretary of Chin National Front, and was part of a two-member CNF delegation headed by Chairman Pu Zing Cung during their meeting with Burma’s cabinet minister on November 19. He also currently serves as Secretary-General of the Ethnic Nationalities Council (ENC), a multi-ethnic alliance based in exile.]
Chinland Guardian: You have just met with Thein Sein’s representative. Was it true?
Dr. Sui Khar: Yes, we had a closed-door meeting with Minister of Railway Transport U Aung Min [Ex-General] on Saturday, 19 November 2011, on the Thai-Burma border for more than two hours.
Chinland Guardian: Share with us what you discussed.
Dr. Sui Khar: Our discussion focused mainly on the ‘peace talks’ offered by the new government of Burma. Ethnic armed groups were offered ‘peace talk’ under President Thein Sein’s invitation but this time the Minister said he came on his personal capacity and invited the armed groups to discuss about the process towards peace in Burma.
The delegation led by U Aung Min, including members of the Myanmar Egress, Khin Mg Shwe, Dr. Kyaw Zin Hlaing, and Tin Mg Than talked about changes in Burma and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to re-register for the by-elections. They also highlighted that the Chin National Front (CNF) is invited to get involved in the process of changes in Burma.
The minister said that the peace talks would involve four elements;
- To reach a ceasefire agreement
- To create a liaison office [of the armed groups]
- Armed soldiers of both sides will not enter each other’s territory without explicit permission
- To decide details of date and venue for further discussion with the Union Government
The Minister also stressed that the goal of the discussion is not just to reach a ceasefire agreement as was the case with the previous ones. He admitted that previous ceasefire agreements had failed due to lack of political dialogue, and that a political dialogue is necessary for establishing permanent peace in the country.
Chinland Guardian: What were your messages to them?
Dr. Sui Khar: Our Chairman, Pu Zing Cung, said the Chins are co-founder of the Union of Burma and that the Chin aspiration is not to secede from the Union of Burma; we only aspire to peaceful co-existence in a Union, which also equally belongs to the Chins. He also mentioned that the CNF welcomed current political changes in the country, while urging the Minister to put the ethnic issues on the national agendas of the new government. He also stressed that the Union of Burma should support the ethnic issues, which must be dealt with properly in order to move things forward in the interest of ushering in stability and peace in Burma.
We also suggested that the new government establish an Ethnic Affairs Advisory Board that will advise the President on ethnic issue. Currently, the government’s slogan of the three “national causes” [Non-disintegration of the Union, non-disintegration of national unity, perpetuation of sovereignty] is understood and interpreted differently by different parties. We need to have a common definition of these causes so that a political dialogue can move forward.
We also proposed that public consultations be held before the actual political dialogue takes place.
Chinland Guardian: What was the Minister’s response?
Dr. Sui Khar: U Aung Min said he agreed with many of the suggestions made by Chairman of CNF and that he will take our message forward to President Thein Sein.
He also mentioned that while the ceasefire talks are ongoing and preparing to hold a political dialogue, development in Chin State should be focused. He said the new government is ready to provide necessary assistance and facilities in order to undertake development work in Chin State. For example, he talked about the government’s plans to invite experts from Sri Lanka and India on tea plantation in a bid to make Chin State as a special economic zone.
At the same time, U Aung Min said he would love to see Chin intellectuals and intelligentsia participating in the development work in Chin State.
But the meeting was only preliminary aimed at confidence building.
Chinland Guardian: Did you actually come up with any kind of agreements at the end of the discussion?
Dr. Sui Khar: We agreed to hold a state-level meeting in Hakha, the capital of Chin State, in the first week of January 2012, with the State government representatives. But a representative of U Aung Min will also be present as an observer. There will also be representatives from the Military Affairs Security (MAS) or Sa Ya Ka at the upcoming meeting in the Chin capital.
Chinland Guardian: How do you think other ethnic groups see the discussion?
Dr. Sui Khar: Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), Karen National Union (KNU) and Chin National Front (CNF) have agreed to meet with the government in regards to a ceasefire agreement. However, other ethnic groups asked if the 2008 constitution can be amended. In response, the Minister said the constitution could be amended as needed, as laws made by human beings can be changed by human beings. He pointed to the recent example where the election laws were amended to allow the NLD to participate in the by-elections.
The Chin National Front is positive about this talk, only because this time it involves a political dialogue and not a ceasefire talk for the sake of a ceasefire, as was the case with previous offers for peace talks.
Chinland Guardian: How could you make sure that this ‘peace talk’ offer will be successful this time?
Dr. Sui Khar: It is very important to see under which framework President Thein Sein’s government will hold a political dialogue. And obviously, more discussions will be needed in order to establish a common ground and trust. However, this will have to come after confidence building is complete and what has been achieved during this process.
We need time, patience and mutual trust in order to be successful in the long run. This is important because there have been deep-seated mutual distrusts over the past many decades.
Chinland Guardian: So, what do you want to see happen next?
Dr. Sui Khar: Firstly, the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, which should be followed by an official announcement of cessation of hostility in the country. Then, there must be an inclusive political dialogue in which all the political actors should equally get involved throughout the processes. Just to repeat, there must be a conducive environment for the ethnic peoples to enjoy equality, freedoms and self-determination at least some extent for the start.
Chinland Guardian: Overall, how do you find the discussion?
Dr. Sui Khar: It was an open and friendly discussion and if we can continue this kind of attitude and in sincere good faith, both from inside and outside of Burma, this could lead to a better and positive future, and I strongly believe we could move forwards. But there are hardliners in the power structure and we must be mindful of potential problems as well.
Chinland Guardian: Thank you for your time and talking to us.
Dr. Sui Khar: My pleasure.
Interview by Chinland Guardian