Myanmar says UN chief Ban Ki Moon will attend landmark peace talks

United Nations chief Ban Ki Moon will attend a landmark peace conference, says Myanmar.
United Nations chief Ban Ki Moon will attend a landmark peace conference, says Myanmar. PHOTO: ST FILE

YANGON (AFP) - United Nations chief Ban Ki Moon will attend a landmark peace conference in Myanmar this month, an official and a rebel group said on Monday (Aug 22), bolstering Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi's drive to end decades of fighting.

Five-day talks are slated to kick off on Aug 31. The gathering is dubbed the 21st Century Panglong Conference, a nod to a historic agreement signed by Ms Suu Kyi's independence hero father Aung San in 1947 that saw major ethnic groups commit to joining what was then Burma after independence.

Mr Zaw Htay, deputy director-general of the President's Office, said the UN's Secretary General would be present. "He will attend. We invited him as he would like to attend," he told AFP without giving details.

Mr Saw Kwe Htoo Win from the Karen National Union, one of the largest rebel groups, added: "UN secretary-general will attend to give a speech, though we do not know which date yet".

Mr Ban's presence will help solidify international support for Ms Suu Kyi's peace push.

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

Ms Suu Kyi has made peace a flagship policy of her newly installed civilian-led government.

It is a tall order in a country where the military, which is loathed by many ethnic rebel groups, still retains significant control.

Some groups which fought the army for decades have signed ceasefires but those are fragile, adding urgency to Ms Suu Kyi's task.

Others have refused to sign any ceasefire and a handful are still actively engaged in fighting the military.

For the first time, the peace talks will include non-signatories to the ceasefire. But it is not yet clear what role they will have at the talks.

The original Panglong deal collapsed under the junta that took power in 1962 and embarked on almost 50 years of devastating rule.

Ms Suu Kyi is banned from the presidency by a military-era Constitution. But as both foreign minister and state counsellor, she is effectively in charge of Myanmar's civilian government.

The powerful military retains control of key ministries, including defence, as well as many of the front lines.

But since her election, Ms Suu Kyi appears to have developed a good relationship with the country's army chief.