Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmar State Counselor, and de facto head of state pledged on Monday to build a democratic federal union including ethnic minorities, but did not mention any group by name. Suu Kyi said this during a nationally televised address to mark the start of Buddhist new year.
Since it’s very independence from Colonial rule in 1948, the country has been plagued by insurgencies by ethnic minority groups. Some of the ethnic minority groups, like the 1.1 million Rohingya who are believed to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, live with social, legal and economic discrimination and rebellions have rocked the state after Suu Kyi came to power.
Till now Suu Kyi, in spite of her status as a human rights icon, has taken a cautious approach on the Rohingya issue, drawing criticism from some rights groups overseas. This led to a US government agency call on Myanmar to end ethnic and religious discrimination and do away with abusive policies, mostly against the Rohingya.
Suu Kyi has vowed to press for greater autonomy for the nation’s ethnic minorities, in a move to soothe the turbulence rocking the country after her party’s ascent to power.
“Being democratically elected by the people, our government is responsible for all citizens, treating everyone equally with love and compassion,” Suu Kyi said in her speech. “That’s why we give a high priority to national reconciliation. We’ll continue to build a genuine federal democratic union, longed for by the entire people,” she added.
Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, has emerged as the country’s first civilian government after 54 years of direct and indirect military rule. The country has been swept up in optimism for a more peaceful and prosperous future since the NLD replaced power from the outright military rule on 1 April.
But Suu Kyi has warned that Myanmar’s prospects depend on ending ethnic conflicts that have been long plaguing the country. To do so, the NLD government would seek ‘a real federal democratic union’, she said in her address. Reiterating the federal pledge, Suu Kyi sought to reassure ethnic leaders that the NLD would govern for all, despite its leadership being drawn heavily from the Buddhist Bamar majority.
The country’s ethnic minorities have often complained of their treatment by the Bamar who form much of the military, economic and political elite.
In October, the previous semi-civilian government had signed a ceasefire initiative with eight armed ethnic groups, the culmination of more than two years of negotiation. The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner said her government valued this initiative and vowed to carry it further.
“We’ll continue to make efforts to include all the organizations we deem appropriate in order to achieve a complete ceasefire,” Suu Kyi said.