YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar’s president and powerful military chief will hold an unprecedented high-level meeting on Friday with major political parties and ethnic minority groups as cracks widen in the fledgling democracy ahead of an election next year.
The talks are the first of their kind in Myanmar and will see opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi meet for the first time with the powerful armed forces chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing – talks that the Nobel laureate has sought since she became a lawmaker in 2012.
Friday’s hastily arranged get-together in the capital Naypyitaw comes as a complex peace process with armed ethnic rebels teeters on the brink of collapse and tensions linger over moves by Suu Kyi’s party – backed by five million petitioners – to amend the constitution and reduce the political clout of a military that ruled Myanmar brutally for 49 years.
It takes place as US President Barack Obama prepares to visit Myanmar next month for a regional summit amid growing US concerns about human rights abuses in Myanmar, including jailing of journalists and alleged oppression of stateless Rohingya Muslims and ethnic minorities caught in conflict with government troops.
President Thein Sein, a former junta general, has been lauded for widespread reforms since taking power in 2011 and convincing the West to suspend most sanctions, but critics say those changes are now starting to unravel.
News of the meeting so close to Obama’s arrival has been met with scepticism in Myanmar, with some calling it theatre.