Burmese President Thein Sein said young ethnic people should “swap guns for laptops” and be allowed their decades-demanded right to get involved in our “all inclusive political process.”
In a speech before the Union Parliament to mark the first anniversary of his new government taking office, Thein Sein highlighted the importance of national reconciliation amongst Burma's diverse tapestry of ethnic minorities.
“As our country is a Union nation, we must let all ethnic minorities get equally involved in the political process,” said Thein Sein on Thursday. “It is necessary that we, the current government, help to end the misunderstanding and mistrust between ethnic groups and the government.“
“According to a young ethnic armed leader, young ethnic armed people aged 18 and 19 often say they also want to hold laptops, computers. I feel very sad to hear this. I have decided to eliminate all these misfortunes during my government administration.
“It is necessary to help ethnic young people who hold guns to be able to hold laptops and try to live a good life,” he added.
And Thein Sein said that he felt responsible for making the lost dreams of long-suffering ethnic people come true, and that he has been in contact with rebel groups in order to achieve this.
“We have no trick on the path in the direction of the peace,” he said. “We conduct peace deals based on the spirit of Panglong Agreement.”
The Panglong Agreement was signed by Burmese independence hero Aung San and the Shan, Kachin, and Chin peoples in 1947. The agreement accepted the “full autonomy in internal administration for the frontier areas” and envisioned the creation of independent states for ethnic groups within a federal government.
The president also gave assurances that government soldiers have been instructed to stop attacks against ethnic armed groups, and that Commander-in-Chief Gen Min Aung Hlaing has also ordered his troops to stop hostilities.
“The armed conflicts will not come to an end if we just blame each other,” said Thein Sein. “We have to solve it by political means. For that, it is needed that we must start with ceasefire agreements.”
Thein Sein went on to explain that there were three steps in his government's peace process—State level talks and stopping hostilities, repositioning troops and opening liaison offices in respective regions, and then setting up a timetable for Union level talks.
But not all observers are convinced by the Thein Sein's remarks. Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher on Burma, David Mathieson, last month told the Wilson Center think tank in Washington, “No one knows what's happening within the [Burmese] military. The only thing we can discern is that they are as abusive as ever.”
The president, however, vowed that it is government policy to ensure equality between the diverse minorities of Burma, and that the country must be proud to have more than 100 ethnic groups.
He said that it is necessary to cooperate with ethnic leaders, political parties, representatives of civil society and civilians in order to allow ethnic minorities to live in dignity. He emphasized that ethnic cooperation is very important and it is unnecessary for minority groups to separate from the Union of Burma.
Since late 2011, several peace deals with major ethnic rebels such as Karen, Shan, Mon and Chin militias have been reached under the negotiation of his Union level peace delegation. However, fighting still rages in Kachin State where an estimated 40,000 refugees, many women and children, currently live in make-shift camps near the Chinese border.