Jimmy Carter commented later:
“We had constructive discussions with President U Thein Sein and members of his government, as well as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, in Nay Pyi Taw. We were impressed by the pace with which reforms are proceeding. Myanmar is becoming a more open society. The release of political prisoners is particularly encouraging. We trust there will be no political prisoners by the end of the year, as the President has pledged.”
They discussed the military’s security responsibilities and its changing role as Myanmar moves towards democracy. They also raised the role of women in politics and the armed forces (Tatmadaw), as well as the need for the military to increase its cooperation and training with foreign militaries.
The Elders spoke about the high level of attention being paid inside and outside Myanmar to the task of amending the current 2008 Constitution, which gives the military a prominent role in national affairs. The parliamentarians acknowledged their limited experience in handling their assigned task but assured the Elders that constitutional change would be an inclusive process, based on common goals.
Following the meeting, Martti Ahtisaari commented:
“I always say that building peace only begins once hostilities cease. This is the start, not the end, of a process. For Myanmar to reap the benefits of peace, careful attention will need to be given to how the factors underlying conflict are managed, in particular the contest for land and other natural resources.”
Min Ko Naing told the Elders that some people, particularly those from ethnic minorities affected by conflict with the army, have doubts about the ceasefires that are being signed with different armed groups. He recommended that the Elders focus on ethnic groups’ demands for federalism and self-government.
Speaking as a member of the country’s increasingly vibrant civil society, she was strongly in favour of bringing together all concerned groups in society – outside parliament – to discuss with the government what constitutional changes were needed. She did not want to leave the task to parliament alone.
Jimmy Carter later commented: “We have also been struck by the growing contribution and leadership of women in civil society, and yet they are under-represented in the political process. A truly vibrant democratic society cannot thrive without women’s equal status in all aspects of life.”
Gro Harlem Brundtland said: “The targeted violence against the Muslim minority in Rakhine state should also be halted as a priority. All people in Rakhine state, regardless of their religion, should see their basic rights to food, education and security fulfilled. No one can afford to ignore these senseless, destructive, repeated acts of brutality.”
In this photo, Martti Ahtisaari hears from Wai Wai Nu from the Women’s Peace Network – Arakan, and Rohingya politician Abu Tahay.
In this photo, Elders Jimmy Carter and Martti Ahtisaari greet the Buddhist leader Sitagu Sayadaw.
Commenting after the meeting with faith leaders, Gro Harlem Brundtland said: “A lot of attention has been given to the tensions between people of different faiths in Myanmar, but we have also been struck by the extent of the divisions within religious groups. We have encouraged the religious leaders to work for compassion and tolerance. It could take decades to overcome the ingrained prejudices promoted by extremist voices in parts of the country. This will require far-reaching cultural changes in all parts of society, including through changes in the education curriculum.”
They had a warm and informal exchange about the major challenges facing Myanmar today, including the need for constitutional changes, the peace process with the ethnic armed groups, the recent inter-communal violence, and her own role as an international symbol of democracy and freedom.
She welcomed the involvement of The Elders in trying to help address the country’s problems.
During the first Elders delegation to Myanmar in September 2013, Jimmy Carter, Martti Ahtisaari and Gro Harlem Brundtland heard a range of perspectives on the country's political transition, from President Thein Sein to the leaders of the 1988 democracy movement.
Photos: Kaung Htet