By SAW YAN NAING (Irrawaddy News)
As Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa arrives in Burma on Friday on a visit deemed vital to advance Naypyidaw's bid to chair the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in 2014, observers from both countries have called on the respective parties to use the trip as an opportunity for Indonesia to assist in settling Burma's ongoing conflict with ethnic minorities.
Burma's inability to end its ethnic conflicts---some of which have endured almost continuously for more than 60 years---is one of the priority issues on the agenda for the Indonesian foreign minister, alongside the release of political prisoners and democratic reform, as he schedules to meet Burma's President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Indonesia, itself ruled by dictatorship when Suharto wielded power between 1967 and 1998, shares certain geopolitical similarities with Burma, one of which is its diversity of cultures, languages and religions.
Several observers concurred that Indonesia could lend advice to Burma's new government by recounting its own transition from authoritarian rule to democracy, as well as building peace with ethnic rebels---such as in th case of Jakarta's protracted war of 29 years with northern Sumatra's Free Aceh Movement.
Several experts who spoke to The Irrawaddy, echoed calls for Indonesia, as current chairman of Asean, to impose its authority by demanding Naypyidaw enact reforms because it is considered for the 2014 chairmanship, as well as using its experience to help facilitate democratization in Burma.
Most observers acknowledged that Burma's reforms must begin internally, but many also said that both the Burmese government and its pro-democracy opposition could benefit from Indonesia's support.
Ahead of the Indonesian foreign minister's trip, regional watchdog Asean Inter-Parliament Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) called on leaders of the bloc nations to take the initiative in facilitating an inclusive peace process in Burma's troubled border areas.
"It is now time for Asean to bring about its potential---to effectively act in line with the principles of its Charter---and utilize this opportunity to support peace and stability in its member state," said the executive director of the AIPMC, Agung Putri Astrid, in a statement on Thursday.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Friday, Anggara, a human rights advocate and lawyer who is the executive director of Jakarta-based Indonesian Advocates Association, said, "In relation to the minorities, especially the ethnic groups, I think this is a good dialogue-building opportunity through the involvement of third parties, as we ourselves experienced when dealing with Aceh."
Burmese must show a willingness to unite, but at the same time recognize the differences in their cultural identity, and provide those ethnic groups with "Internal Self Determination," he said.
"However, this entire process should only be reached through dialogue between the central government and the ethnics groups," he said.
After Suharto was forced to step down in 1998, Indonesia passed several constitutional amendments to promote political and economic reforms, as well as human rights.
Constitutional changes in Indonesia only happened after the general election of 1999 when we amended our constitution four times, said Anggara.
He said that Burma must first promote the establishment of democratic institutions such as NGOs, political parties and the judiciary.
A law that guarantees press freedom in Burma is a bonus, he added.
As a multi-ethnic nation like Indonesia, Burma must also respect the diverse culture of its ethnic minorities, said various observers.
Between 35 and 40 percent of Burma's 55-million population is non-Burman---indigenous groups such as Karen, Shan, Karenni, Kachin, Mon, Chin and Arakanese, almost all of which have fought against the central government for independence or autonomy for decades.
In an interview with The Irrawaddy in Yogyakarta in 2010, Thung Ju Lan, a professor at the Research Center for Society and Culture (Indonesia Institute of Science), said, "We have to learn from each other. The first thing we need to do is try to understand the differences and respect them."
Aye Thar Aung, a Rangoon-based Arakanese politician said that real peace will not exist in Burma---a multi-ethnic nation---if the country keep neglecting the ethnic minority's rights.
He called for the declaration of a nationwide ceasefire and peace talks between the government and ethnic armed groups. He also called for a constitutional amendment that would give real authority to ethnic state leaders.