Burma’s president said yesterday that his government wanted equal rights for ethnic minorities, the latest conciliatory gesture from the regime to armed rebel groups.
Former general Thein Sein said in a speech to parliament that the authorities needed to end the “misunderstanding” with ethnic minorities, which he said was due to a lack of dialogue.
“The expectation of ethnic groups is to get equal rights for all. Equal standards are also the wish of our government,” he said.
“Confidence is very important for national reconciliation in our country.” Civil war has gripped parts of Burma since independence in 1948 and an end to the conflicts as well as alleged human rights abuses involving the military is a key demand of the international community.
Thein Sein — a former junta premier who came to power almost a year ago after decades of outright military rule — has launched efforts to end ethnic conflict as part of a raft of reforms. The new army-backed government has reached tentative peace deals with several rebel groups including in eastern Karen and Shan states, but bloody fighting in northern Kachin has overshadowed reconciliation efforts.
A presidential order issued in mid-December for the military to cease attacks against Kachin guerrillas failed to stop heavy fighting in the region, according to the rebels.
Thein Sein acknowledged that the unrest had not yet ended but said he had instructed the military not to engage in combat except in self-defence.
“Fighting will not stop by pointing the finger of blame at each other,” he added.
“Ceasefires are needed on both sides first for political dialogue… We all have to work so our ethnic youths who held guns stand tall holding laptops.”
Burma’s regime held initial peace talks with representatives of the Kachin Independence Organisation in January in China, with the two sides agreeing to hold further negotiations in search of an end to the conflict.