A summit designed to help end Myanmar’s long-running civil war has ended. Aung San Suu Kyi expressed optimism about achieving a long-lasting peace, though she emphasized there’s still work needed to be done.
The last day of the peace conference drew to a close one day earlier than expected on Saturday with no concrete resolution, though Suu Kyi insisted it was only the first step toward ending insurgencies that have divided the nation for years.
Myanmar has been embroiled in an ongoing civil war since 1948, when once-independent ethnic minorities suddenly found themselves under Burmese control following the country’s independence from Great Britain.
Suu Kyi, a Nobel Prize-winner who became the country’s de facto leader after speaking out against the ruling junta, has made a peace agreement between the military and ethnic rebels one of her major priorities.
The UN-backed summit, which began on Wednesday and gave more than a dozen rebel groups the opportunity to come to the table and make their voices heard, was not without its achievements. Among the participants, for example, were rebel groups that had not signed a ceasefire agreement with the former government last year.
More meetings ahead
The summit also faced its share of obstacles. Three rebel militaries refused to participate, and one of the biggest groups, the United Wa State Army, stormed out on the second day after it was only granted observer status. The government insists it was an administrative problem.
“To achieve peace is very difficult,” Suu Kyi told the conference. “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.”
Despite the leader’s optimism, many rebel groups remain skeptical of her leadership, and some observers believe a truly sustained peace will be difficult to achieve.
Among the challenges Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) faces is the fact that the military still retains influence in the government post-junta. In order to settle on a federal arrangement that satisfies all the disparate rebel groups, Suu Kyi will need the support from the army.
Geographic hurdles are another factor. The ethnic Burmese reside mostly in the center and coastal regions of the country, while many of the ethnic minorities live in areas containing valuable natural resources like wood, jade and ruby. Many of these groups – not necessarily on good terms with each other – have been fiercely defending their access to these resources.
Experts have expressed skepticism that a deal was within reach, partly due to the rebels’ inherent distrust of the military. “The ethnic groups know precisely that Suu Kyi is speaking up front, but that the military is standing behind her,” academic Marco Bünte told DW earlier this week.
Nonetheless, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the meeting “historic” and, like many international leaders, has expressed optimism that Suu Kyi could lead the way toward peace.
The next peace conference is slated to take place in March.