Suu Kyi meets Wa army

Suu Kyi meets Wa army

Aung San Suu Kyi sits with members of the United Wa State Army (UWSA) after a meeting of armed ethnic groups at a hotel in Nay Pyi Daw on Friday (AP Photo)
Aung San Suu Kyi sits with members of the United Wa State Army (UWSA) after a meeting of armed ethnic groups at a hotel in Nay Pyi Daw on Friday (AP Photo)

NAY PYI DAW: Myanmar's most heavily armed ethnic group held "positive" talks on Friday with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, a spokesman for her office said, giving a major boost to peace prospects.

The United Wa State Army (UWSA) stopped fighting the government in 1989 in exchange for control of a remote portion of territory bordering China which is believed to be awash with drugs.

But they have a standing army of between 20,000 and 25,000 members and are yet to commit to a full nationwide ceasefire, undercutting Suu Kyi's aim of swiftly securing a lasting peace.

Several complex ethnic conflicts are rumbling across Myanmar's borderlands, hampering efforts to build the economy after the end of junta rule.

Some groups that fought the army for decades have signed ceasefires but they have been fragile, adding urgency to the task facing Suu Kyi, the country's de facto leader.

The Wa are accused of producing and trafficking huge amounts of methamphetamine and heroin from their secretive holdout and buying weapons with the proceeds.

Friday's "very positive discussions" between leaders of the Wa, a powerful group called the Mongla army, and Suu Kyi were an "important first step" in building trust, Zaw Htay, spokesman for her office, told reporters.

Suu Kyi wants to convene a meeting to thrash out the precepts of greater federal autonomy for ethnic groups in exchange for peace.

It is being called the 21st Panglong conference in a nod to a historic conference called by her independence hero father Aung San in 1947, when major ethnic groups commited to joining Burma, as the country was known then.

But that deal collapsed under the junta that took control several years after Aung San's assassination and embarked on almost 50 years of devastating rule.

Suu Kyi has not set a date for the meeting but is ramping up efforts to ensure all rebel groups are at the table.

Both the USWA and Mongla army "support the 21st century Panglong conference and they will try to participate", Zaw Htay added.

Experts say Myanmar's myriad conflicts are entwined with the illicit trade in drugs, jade and timber, which makes ending them all the more complicated.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed or displaced by the decades of war.

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