Wed, May 01, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Myanmar’s ethnic powder keg haunts transition to democracy

By Yohei Sasakawa, Karel Schwarzenberg, and Andre Glucksmann, et

Yet there is reason for hope. In February, Myanmar’s government and the UN Federal Council, an alliance of 11 ethnic militias, conducted official peace talks. Shared Concern Initiative founding member Yohei Sasakawa participated as the sole observer, mediating the talks in his capacity as special envoy of the government of Japan for national reconciliation in Myanmar.

The successful realization of official peace talks through an observer reflects the significant progress made since informal discussions were held in November. There is a growing understanding in Myanmar of the importance of the international community’s support in reaching a lasting settlement.

Such a settlement remains possible. Despite their history of armed resistance against the government, the nation’s ethnic minorities do not pursue a separatist agenda. Rather, they seek a constitutional guarantee for a certain degree of autonomy in exchange for their commitment to the path of non-violence.

The lack of a separatist inclination provides a more stable foundation for a peace agreement. However, the positive momentum for reconciliation must be intensified. The international community must redouble its efforts to help Myanmar, with its almost 60 million people, to move toward lasting peace and true democracy. Better integration of ethnic minorities, with full respect for their human and civil rights, is essential to reducing the risk of a resurgence of ethnic violence — and to giving Myanmar’s transition a chance to succeed.

Yohei Sasakawa is president of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation; Karel Schwarzenberg is foreign minister of the Czech Republic; Andre Glucksmann is a philosopher and essayist; HRH Prince El Hassan bin Talal is chairman and founder of the Arab Thought Forum and the West Asia-North Africa Forum; Vartan Gregorian is president of the Carnegie Corporation; Michael Novak is a philosopher and diplomat; Desmond Tutu is archbishop emeritus of Cape Town and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate; Richard von Weizsaecker is a former German president. All signatories are members of the Shared Concern Initiative.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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