Myanmar's landmark peace summit ends, with Aung San Suu Kyi seeing long road ahead

Ms Suu Kyi greeting military delegates at the end of the peace conference in Naypyidaw.
Ms Suu Kyi greeting military delegates at the end of the peace conference in Naypyidaw.PHOTO: AFP

NAYPYIDAW (AFP) - Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi concluded a landmark peace summit with ethnic rebels on Saturday (Sept 3), calling it the first step in what promises to be a tough road to peace in a country riven by civil wars since its birth.

No resolution emerged from the four-day summit, which gave representatives from nearly 20 armed ethnic groups an opportunity to air grievances and outline their political aspirations.

The conference in the capital Naypyidaw is Ms Suu Kyi's first big drive to end ethnic minority insurgencies that have rumbled across Myanmar's frontier states for nearly seven decades, claiming thousands of lives and trapping the borderlands in poverty.

Ms Suu Kyi's biggest achievement was bringing many key players to the table, including rebel armies outside a ceasefire brokered by the former military-backed government last year.

However, three groups still clashing with troops did not attend the talks, and the powerful Wa - a heavily armed militia based in an area bordering China - stormed out of the conference on day two.

"To achieve peace is very difficult," Ms Suu Kyi told the conference hall of delegates on Saturday, the final day the of summit after it was decided a fifth day was not needed.

"This is the first meeting. After this, there will be more meetings. And there are many things we have to do during the time in between," she added.

The veteran democracy activist, who spent some 15 years under house arrest during junta rule, called on all sides to "look forward" as the peace process continues.

"Now each group has spoken and it appears that some are focused on the past while others are looking to the future... those who are are looking back to the past today may look forward next time. And we hope they will," she said.

The Nobel laureate, who championed a democracy struggle against the former junta, has devoted her first few months in power to kickstarting a fresh peace dialogue between rebel militias and the army.

Distrust of the Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar military is known, runs deep among minorities after half a century of brutal warfare and oppression marked by torture, rape and mass killings.

The conflicts are also complicated by tussles over the drug trade and lucrative resources in some rebel-held areas.

While Ms Suu Kyi has backed the minorities' calls for greater autonomy in their homelands, it will be a challenge to craft a federal arrangement that meets each of the group's unique demands.

Any charter changes will also require support from the still-influential military, which has the power to veto any proposed amendments to the Constitution.