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Leaders of Burmese political parties began arriving on Thursday in Chiang Mai where they are scheduled to hold a meeting with ethnic armed groups to discuss the current peace process.
The meeting, organised by the Myanmar Peace Center, will include officials from the National League for Democracy, the National Democratic Force, the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, the Chin National Party, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy and the Democratic Party (Myanmar). They will exchange views with representatives of most of the main armed groups, including the Kachin Independence Organisation, which is yet to accede to Burmese government plans to establish nationwide ceasefire agreement.
The meeting, which is also expected to include talks on Burmese federalism, is scheduled for Friday and Saturday, ahead of another round of negotiations between the ethnic armed groups and a government delegation next month in Karen state capital Hpa-an.
Chin National Party Chairman Zozam told DVB as he arrived at Chiang Mai International Airport on Thursday that a meeting with the armed groups was something he never dreamed would happen.
“This is something we couldn’t even dream of and it signifies that political changes are taking place [in Burma] – by allowing political leaders in the country to meet with their brothers and sisters in exile. While it might not be considered substantial, the opportunity to meet with the exiled activists is priceless,” said Zozam.
Khin Maung Swe, the leader of the National Democratic Force, said Burma is now entering its “political spring”.
“Now is the time the snow begins to melt. As tensions reduce, we are shifting to an all-inclusive political environment. However, struggles and challenges still lie ahead – we are, after all, here at the risk of prosecution under Article 17(1) [the Unlawful Associations Act]. But this is evidence of our strong will to see peace in the country,” he said.
Political parties are forbidden – under a ruling by the previous military junta – of making contact with organisations deemed “unlawful”.
Several Chiang Mai-based civil rights groups and NGOS, such as Women’s League of Burma, will also attend the two-day conference. The ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party, despite being invited by MPC, will not attend.