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Myanmar ethnic leader calls on Suu Kyi to clarify stance on peace process

By Timothy Mclaughlin
January 16, 2016

Yangon -- A key signatory to a ceasefire brokered by outgoing President Thein Sein with some of Myanmar's ethnic armed groups has expressed concern over lack of clarity from Aung San Suu Kyi and called on her to keep the team that struck the deal intact.

Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy (NLD) party won the November election, has said that bringing peace to the country marred by decades of conflict with myriad ethnic rebel groups will be the first priority of her government.

After spurning peace efforts undertaken by the quasi-civilian government of Thein Sein that took power in 2011, Suu Kyi spoke on Monday of a more inclusive process but was highly critical of Thein Sein's efforts during an interview with Radio Free Asia broadcast on Friday.

"I understand that this peace confer ence is just a token recognizing the accomplishments of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement and the real peace conference will have to be conducted by the next government," Suu Kyi said, but offered few details on how the process would run. 

"We need to see the policy that she (Suu Kyi) will apply. We haven't seen yet how she will apply a policy, so it is difficult to predict how she will run the peace process," Lieutenant General Yawd Serk, chairman of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), told Reuters on Thursday night.

The RCSS and its armed wing, the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), are among the most powerful of the eight groups that signed the ceasefire in October. It has around 6,000 active troops operating mainly on the Thai-Myanmar border, according to the Myanmar Peace Monitor, a resource centre focussed on the peace process.

The deal, which fell well short of the government's goal to include 15 armed groups, was brokered in part by the government-linked Myanmar Peace Centre (MPC). The future of the group, which has international backing of tens of millions of dollars from donors like the European Union and Japan, remains unknown.

"If all of the people in MPC retire, it will be difficult," Yawd Serk said.

The SSA-S emerged under Yawd Serk's command in 1996 as a breakaway faction of a narco-army led by alleged heroin kingpin Khun Sa who signed a ceasefire with the then-ruling junta, a move that highlighted the complexities and shifting loyalties of the armed ethnic groups along Myanmar's border regions.

Commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing reiterated on Monday his call for Myanmar to have one army. How and if armed groups would be folded into the existing military that they have fought for generations remains a highly contentious issue.

But asked when the SSA-S would disarm, Yawd Serk's answer was short.

"Never," he said.

(This version of the story clarifies interview broadcast on Friday, third paragraph)

(Additional reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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