Myanmar's Suu Kyi says peace process will be government's priority

Ms Aung San Suu Kyi speaking at the National League for Democracy party head office in Yangon on Jan 4, 2016.
Ms Aung San Suu Kyi speaking at the National League for Democracy party head office in Yangon on Jan 4, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

YANGON (REUTERS) - Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi said on Monday (Jan 4) the country's peace process will be the first priority of her new government that will take power later this year, following a landslide victory in a November election.

The country has struggled for decades to reach lasting peace agreements with a multitude of ethnic minority guerilla groups that have fought against the government for greater autonomy and recognition.

The government signed a ceasefire in October, but the deal fell short of its nationwide billing, with seven of 15 groups invited declining to sign, including some of the most powerful.

Fighting has since flared in eastern parts of the country between the military, non-signatories and groups that did not take part in the negotiations.

"The peace process is the first thing the new government will work on. We will try for the all inclusive ceasefire agreement," Ms Suu Kyi said in a speech to mark Independence Day at the headquarters of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) in Yangon. "We can do nothing without peace in our country."

Ms Suu Kyi spurned the government-lead peace talks that President Thein Sein touted as a major achievement of his semi-civilian administration, which took power in 2011, ending 49 years of direct military rule.

She did not attend a signing ceremony in October.

The next step in the peace process, a political dialogue with the eight groups that signed, is set to begin on Jan 12.

The NLD-lead government will take power in March following a presidential election expected to take place in February, but the military will remain a powerful political force.

A quarter of the seats in Parliament are reserved for unelected military officials. Three important Cabinet ministers - for home affairs, defence and border affairs - are also chosen by the commander-in-chief.

Ms Suu Kyi remains barred from becoming president under the military-drafted Constitution.

Her speech was one of her first since winning the election and marked 68 years of Myanmar's independence.

The Nobel laureate's father, Aung San, is greatly revered in Myanmar for leading the country's fight for independence from the British and founding the military.

He was assassinated in 1947, six months before his dream of an independent nation was realised when Ms Suu Kyi was just two years old.