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Myanmar says UN chief to attend ethnic peace talks

August 23, 2016

YANGON, Myanmar — Officials in Myanmar say United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will attend a peace conference next week that seeks to end decades of armed conflict with ethnic minority groups.

The U.N. is expected to soon confirm Ban’s attendance at the conference, which begins Aug. 31 in the capital, Naypyidaw.

The deputy director of the President’s Office, Zaw Htay, said Tuesday the government invited Ban to what is informally dubbed the 21st Century Panglong Conference after he expressed an interest in attending. The plans were confirmed by Sai Kyaw Nyunt, general secretary of the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee, which is organizing the event.

“Ban Ki-moon will come to represent the U.N.,” he said.

It will be Ban’s first visit to Myanmar since Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party replaced an army-backed government in March this year. His last visit was in November 2014.

Suu Kyi, the country’s leader, chairs the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee, which includes representatives of the government, ethnic armed groups and political parties. She has issued a call for mutual trust and unity ahead of the meeting.

Suu Kyi’s father, Gen. Aung San, arranged the first Panglong Agreement with ethnic minority groups in 1947. It sought to meet their demands for more autonomy from the central government, but broke down following Aung San’s assassination shortly afterward. Conflict with armed ethnic minority groups has been an almost constant factor of Myanmar’s politics since then.

Eight smaller ethnic groups signed a cease-fire agreement last year under the previous military-backed government of President Thein Sein, while seven have not yet agreed to put down their arms, and fighting continues in Kachin and Shan states. All the groups say peace cannot be sustained unless political arrangements are also made to accommodate demands for greater autonomy.

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