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Key Note Speech by UNRC, Ms. Renata Dessallien, 71st UN Day Commemoration, Yangon University, 20 October, 2016

Key Note Speech by UNRC, Ms. Renata Dessallien,

71st UN Day Commemoration

Yangon University, 20 October, 2016


Esteemed Rector of Yangon University, Dr. Pho Kaung

U Kyaw Zeya, Permanent Secretary, MOFA

HE Ambassador Robert Chua, Dean of the Diplomatic Community in Myanmar

Ladies and gentlemen, students, colleagues and friends

Mingalabar and a very warm welcome to you all!


Let me begin with expressing my sincere appreciation to the august Rector and staff of the University of Yangon for hosting this event. We are honored to commemorate the partnership between the United Nations and Myanmar in this esteemed institution, so imbued with history. If walls could talk we would be here for days and months in wrapped attention listening to them!


Today we are commemorating the creation of the United Nations, born 71 years ago, in the wake of two horrendous world wars. After these wars a profound yearning arose across the world, a powerful feeling of “never again”. Never again to world war.


This lofty yearning for peace continues to be at the heart of the United Nations’ work.  It takes many forms including preventive diplomacy to avoid the escalation of tensions, the brokering of negotiated settlements to end conflicts, the deployment of blue-helmeted peacekeeping troops to protect civilians and support the implementation of peace agreements, and peacebuilding programmes that help societies rebuild after the fighting ends.


Over time, the work of the United Nations gradually expanded to help UN Member States address a wide range of challenges including extreme poverty and neglect; social injustice; deaths from treatable diseases; gender-based violence; violence against children; the destruction of the environment and extinction of species, to name a few.


In November of last year, 193 of the UN’s Member States endorsed a framework that brings all these strands of work together under a clear set of global objectives: the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs.  The SDGs are 17 specific goals to eradicate poverty, eliminate hunger, provide education, ensure gender equality, work with clean energy, address climate change, establish peace and justice and more.   The target date is 2030.  It will not be easy to achieve these goals, and there is much to be done in the years ahead.  But what could be more important than leaving a better world for our children?  Strive we must. And the SDGs provide us both with the vision and with a sense of collective urgency to do the right thing for the next generation.


Myanmar has a longstanding partnership with the UN which began on 19 April 1948 when Myanmar became the 58th UN Member State, a few short months after the country’s independence. During its sixty-eight years of membership, Myanmar has made many significant, and sometimes extraordinary contributions to the UN. Myanmar offered the UN its third Secretary-General, U Thant, who steered the world though an historically important period, from 1961-1971, leading and facilitating the resolution of multiple international crises. The UN benefited not only from the leadership of a skillful mediator and diplomat, but also from a man of great wisdom, vision and a profound understanding of human nature. U Thant’s huge portrait hangs on the wall at UN HQ and his astute and humane stewardship of the UN is deeply treasured.


Ever since, Myanmar’s cooperation with the United Nations has been at the core of Myanmar foreign policy. Over the years, this partnership has evolved, along with the country’s needs and circumstances. Today, the partnership has many dimensions, with Myanmar contributing to, and benefiting from, cooperation with the United Nations and its Member States.


The UN’s work is guided by the universal principals of equality and impartiality, and our support is provided regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion or political affiliation.  We place special attention on the most vulnerable, be they victims of natural disaster, armed conflict or otherwise living in difficult socio-economic or other circumstances.


In Myanmar, the UN’s support to the people and government to achieve the SDGs is carried out through the work of 17 specialized UN agencies, with over 2,000 staff, and more than 60 offices spread across all of the nation’s States and Regions.  I am proud to say that the majority of our staff are Myanmar nationals.


The UN’s work here focuses on Myanmar’s own national priorities and needs. Our assistance therefore takes different forms. The UN provide humanitarian assistance.  This includes the provision of food, shelter and basic services to families affected by flooding or other natural disasters or displaced by fighting. In 2015, the UN-coordinated humanitarian activities worth almost $90 million from diverse donors.


The UN provides development assistance.  The value of this support has been about $300 million annually in recent years. But much more important than the financial resources, is the UN’s substantial assistance in the form of technical expertise from around the world on a broad range of development issues covering education and health, social-economic development, good governance, elections and many other areas.


The UN provides support for Human Rights. This work has many dimensions including support to end forced labour and use of child soldiers, combatting human trafficking and child labour, promoting labour standards, and ensuring that children are protected, including have access to basic documentation such as birth certificates.


The UN supports peacebuilding and Myanmar’s peace process.  The UN Special Advisor to the Secretary-General has accompanied the peace talks between the Government and Ethnic Armed Organizations for many years.  At the same time, the UN agencies on the ground have worked on peace related issues such as mine risk education, promoting dialogue in conflict-affected areas, support to IDPs and refugees and their return, and more recently supporting implementation of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, through the ceasefire Joint Monitoring Commission (JMC).


The UN is also proud to support Myanmar in introducing international standards and norms, providing advice to the drafting of national policies and laws. Since joining the UN, Myanmar has signed more than 60 UN treaties and conventions, and in doing so, made an important contribution to strengthening international norms and principles.  Recently, in the State Counsellor’s visit to the UN General Assembly, the Government of Myanmar ratified the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, demonstrating Myanmar’s firm commitment to global peace and security, and to the UN as the custodian of these international standards and norms.


Myanmar’s partnership with the UN has been aided by our long-standing presence in the country, including during the long years of isolation when we remained engaged working with the people of Myanmar under difficult conditions.  By our presence in country, and through our national staff, we are able to better understand Myanmar, and we are also able to help the bigger global UN and its Member States to understand Myanmar, her people, their hopes and dreams, so that all of us are better informed and able to assist this great country.


Ladies and gentlemen, since the country’s reform process began in earnest, the speed of Myanmar’s transformation has never ceased to amaze. Major socio-economic, and political reforms are happening simultaneously, creating a dizzying pace and scope of change that is sometimes difficult to comprehend. Amidst such change it is important to note the many important milestones that have been reached along the way.  These include the holding of the 2015 elections and subsequent peaceful transfer of power to a new government, the signing of the 2015 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement by eight Ethnic Armed Organizations and convening of the recent Panglong for the 21st Century Conference that included NCA signatories and non-signatory organizations. Equally important the nation has seen an important increase in democratic space, and this has fostered press freedom, use of social media and robust public debate on a wide range of issues.


I would put to you that the central challenge for Myanmar, supported by the United Nations, is to find ways to steer all the processes of national transition in a direction that ensures Myanmar meets the Sustainable Development Goals for all its people.


At the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals is the promise to leave no one behind, and the founding principles of respect for human rights, inclusion, sustainability and equity.


The SDGs remind us that we live in an integrated and indivisible world, where the dimensions of development are large in scope and scale, and impact not only us humans, but also the beautiful planet we inhabit. To translate these multi-dimensional priorities into concrete actions, the SDGs must be tailored to local contexts and must be approached in an integrated way.


Experience tells us that rapid economic growth, for example, can provide great benefits. New and expanding businesses, growing salaries, technological innovations can all improve society.  At the same time, we must be aware that rapid growth can also create heightened inequalities in society.   Myanmar must strive to ensure that growth is not contained within Yangon and a handful of urban centres, but rather distributed and balanced to bring benefit to all of its peoples.  Marked economic inequality is frequently a source of criminality and social unrest, and can also have negative impacts on long-term economic growth – and is to be avoided.


At the same time we must also balance economic growth with the need to protect the environment.  This requires careful planning and regulation of industries and activities that can contaminate soil, water or air.  To not do so can have potentially harmful effects on people, and on children who will inherit the long-term consequences of the decisions and policies we make today.


So you can easily see how economic issues connect to environmental issues, and how they also connect to rule of law and peace issues as well.  Meeting the Sustainable Development Goals is no simple matter, and every nation including Myanmar grapples with complex decisions and difficult trade-offs as part of the process.


Ladies and gentlemen, On the occasional of the UN’s 71st anniversary, I would like make clear that it is our hope that Myanmar’s leaders and people will look on the United Nations as its true and trusted partner in this journey.  There can be no doubt that it is up to the people of this great nation to chart their own course, but the United Nations can be of humble service in providing global knowledge, insight, and resources, to help.  We stand ready to continue to assist and are grateful for the opportunity to be part of this remarkable moment of opening up, of hope in the country.


With this commemorative event of the UN’s 71st anniversary, and armed with the SDGs, let us all reaffirm our commitment to a better and brighter future for all.


On behalf of the UN System here in Myanmar, I extend our sincere gratitude to the Government and people of Myanmar, for their support to the United Nations. I also wish to express our deep appreciation to Yangon University for organizing this event, symbolizing the strong and fruitful partnership that we share. And special thanks to all of you students for your interest in international relations and the role of the UN therein.


Thank you – Kyay zu tin bar deh.


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Yangon, 14 October 2016

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, concluded his three-day mission to Myanmar today. His trip took place shortly after the outbreak of violence in the northern part of Rakhine State and at a time of escalating armed clashes in Kachin. He expressed deep concern regarding recent developments and called for all sides to find peaceful ways to resolve differences rather than choosing the path of violence. He also called on all parties to uphold their responsibilities to protect people affected by violence and conflict and to ensure humanitarian access to people in need.

In meetings with State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other Government officials, the Emergency Relief Coordinator welcomed Myanmar’s recent transition to democracy and the progress that has been made by the Government, local communities, and national organizations in preparing for and responding to natural disasters. He acknowledged the tremendous work that lies ahead to continue to make progress on a number of critical fronts, including addressing humanitarian issues in the country. Mr. O’Brien stated that “humanitarian need is our only measure and impartial aid our only goal.” He stressed that the United Nations is a key partner to the Government and that it stands ready to provide the required support to enable the Government to meet the needs of its people.

In Kachin and Shan States, almost 100,000 people remain displaced due to armed conflict and are unable to return home because of continued fighting and the deadly threat posed by landmines. Mr. O’Brien welcomed the Government’s support in facilitating his travel to conflict-affected areas on both sides of the conflict line. He expressed concern that humanitarian aid to some areas had recently been blocked and urged local authorities to drop their demand for displaced people in some areas to cross an active conflict line in order to receive humanitarian assistance. He stressed that many of those currently receiving humanitarian assistance are women and children, elderly, sick or disabled people. “It was very important for me to visit people on both sides of the conflict line, to see first-hand the impact of the conflict on vulnerable communities. I spoke with people who fled violence more than five years ago and who are simply waiting for the guns to go silent before they can go home,” said Mr. O’Brien.

Mr. O’Brien also travelled to Sittwe in Rakhine State where he visited displaced Muslims in camps as well as a recently resettled Rakhine community, all of whom were affected by inter-communal violence in 2012. He saw the level of poverty that the people of Rakhine endure and witnessed the dire living conditions and hardships endured by Muslim communities who are still denied freedom of movement. He also met with some distressed Rakhine women who had only just arrived in Sittwe after fleeing the recent violence in northern Rakhine.

“The recent violence in Rakhine State is deeply troubling and the immediate priority must be to prevent further violence and to ensure the protection of all civilians. The situation is affecting all communities in Rakhine and has further disrupted the provision of health, education, and other essential services for some of the most vulnerable, particularly the Muslim communities who are not allowed to move freely.”

“When I was in Rakhine State, I talked to people about their suffering and their inadequate access to essential services including health and education. All people in Rakhine State, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion or citizenship status, must have safe access to their nearest hospital or medical centre, to regular schools and to livelihoods.”

Around 120,000 people, most of whom are Muslims who call themselves Rohingya, are still living in displacement camps, four years after the outbreak of inter-communal violence in Rakhine State.

“Freedom of movement is clearly what is needed most. Without this, people are going to remain dependent on humanitarian aid. But for this to happen, more work needs to be done to build trust between the communities. We must work with the Government on practical ways of achieving this, in line with Aung San Suu Kyi’s stated commitment of bringing peace to the whole country. That is her priority and it’s the priority of all those I spoke with during my visit. It is our priority too.”

The Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan for 2016 is 55 per cent funded (US$104 million), leaving a gap of $86 million. More funding is urgently required to scale-up the humanitarian response across the country, particularly in education and health.

For further information, please contact: 
OCHA Myanmar:     Pierre Peron, +95 9250198997, peronp@un.og
OCHA Bangkok:     Helen Mould, +66 63 270 9122, 
OCHA New York:   Russell Geekie, +1 212 963-8340,

Note to Correspondents: Statement on fighting in ethnic areas in Myanmar by the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General

11 October 2016

The Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, is deeply concerned at the escalation of tensions and resumed fighting between government forces and ethnic armed organizations in several sectors, including in northern Shan, Kachin and Karen States. Coming in the wake of recent positive moves for dialogue by the government as well as the constructive engagement shown by the ethnic armed organizations at the recently convened “Twenty First Century Panglong Conference” this is both unsettling and disappointing.

The recent clashes have not only caused grievous deaths and injuries including to infants and children, but also displaced tens of thousands of people across the three states.  This is unconscionable and seriously risks placing the entire peace process in jeopardy.  There is no military solution to the conflicts in Myanmar. Negotiating across the fault lines of majority and minorities represents Myanmar’s biggest challenge requiring patience, magnanimity and understanding.  Any escalation in tension will only undermine the hard won trust between the parties and make peace an even harder undertaking. The high expectations of the peoples of Myanmar as well as the confidence of the international community in the national reconciliation process will only be fulfilled if all parties work together to consolidate the nationwide ceasefire and persist in a sustained political dialogue.

The Special Adviser calls on all sides to meet and negotiate ways to deescalate the conflicts without delay. Pending agreements and solutions, he urges all parties to cease hostile actions, protect civilians, allow unhindered access for humanitarian assistance to affected communities and avoid disproportionate responses to perceived aggressive postures. In his direct communication with the stakeholders, the Special Adviser has encouraged them to move forward constructively to overcome current hurdles and move purposively to realize the legitimate expectations of a stable, peaceful and secure future for all Myanmar’s peoples.

The United Nations is committed to working with all stakeholders to consolidate the peace process, address urgent humanitarian and other problems and bring peace and tranquillity to the areas currently experiencing tension and conflict.

Note to Correspondents: Statement by UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar

Yangon,12 October 2016

The UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar strongly condemns the violent attacks and killings in Maungdaw district. She has expressed to the authorities her condolences for the death of the border guard police personnel and is deeply saddened by all loss of life. She is also very concerned about the unfolding situation and has conveyed this to the Government. The UN continues to follow the situation, urging that rule of law be fully respected, civilians be protected and all efforts made to deescalate tensions. The UN hopes this situation can be resolved quickly so that the people in Rakhine State can move toward the peaceful, prosperous and harmonious future they all deserve.

Note to Correspondents: Statement on Rakhine by the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Myanmar

New York, 11 October 2016

The Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, expresses his deep concern at the violent attacks by unidentified individuals and groups against border guards and security forces on 9 October and the resultant fighting which has resulted in the deaths of security personnel as well as civilians in the three affected areas of Northern Rakhine. He has been informed by the concerned authorities in Naypyitaw that firm instructions have been issued from the highest levels to take action strictly in accordance with the law to maintain peace and avoid escalation.

The Special Adviser calls on the civilian population of the area to exercise maximum restraint and not be provoked into any kind of response by targeting other communities or religious groups. He recognizes the prompt action and sober response of the security forces but urges them to exercise caution in the future to avoid any injuries or loss of innocent civilian lives, collateral damage to properties or any perception of harassment of the local population.

Over the last year, the authorities have shown good organization and discipline in averting any major outbreak of violence between the communities in Rakhine. At this delicate juncture, the local communities at all levels must refuse to be provoked by these incidents and their leaders must work actively to prevent incitement of animosity or mutual hatred between Buddhist and Muslim communities.

Readout of the Ministerial-level Meeting of the Secretary-General’s Partnership Group on Myanmar

Readout of the Ministerial-level Meeting of the Secretary-General’s Partnership Group on Myanmar

The Secretary-General convened today a meeting of his Partnership Group on Myanmar at the Ministerial level. At the meeting, he briefed members on his visit to Myanmar in late August and shared his observations on the major changes taking place in that country, reflecting the commitment of its new leadership to strengthening the rule of law as a vital part of the reform process and to promoting greater ethnic, political, religious and gender inclusiveness.

While recognizing the significant progress made by Myanmar in its reform efforts, the meeting also highlighted that the goal of nation-building was far from over. The Secretary-General stressed that the sustained engagement, as well as steady support and encouragement of the United Nations and other members of the international community, will remain crucial to Myanmar in meeting its challenges in the future.

The Group encouraged the continuing advances being made in the national reconciliation process. It referred in particular to the recently held 21st Century Panglong Conference in which the Secretary-General had urged all concerned stakeholders to proceed on a unified track of political dialogue and to address all issues equitably and fairly. Participants underlined that reaching a federal union based on democracy, equality, and power sharing, as well as ensuring prosperity for all, will require flexibility and mutual accommodation by all sides.

The Group also stressed the importance of addressing the complex challenges in Rakhine, one of Myanmar’s poorest regions. The need for urgent steps to end discrimination and improve the humanitarian situation, especially of those currently confined to the IDP camps was recognized by all. In the longer term, unless the core issue of citizenship and legal status for the Muslim communities, including of Rohingyas, was addressed, there was little likelihood of durable peace and harmony in the state. In this context, the Group welcomed the initiative taken by the Union Government for the establishment of an Advisory Commission on Rakhine chaired by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The Partnership Group urged the Government to put in place broader measures to combat discrimination and promote a more tolerant and inclusive society. In this respect, the Secretary-General and others called for progress in the establishment of an in-country OHCHR office with a full mandate. This would provide valuable assistance to the Government in meeting its rights obligations.

The Secretary-General highlighted that this would be his last meeting of the Partnership Group. He hoped for steady and sustained progress in the normalization of Myanmar’s engagement with the international community in the months ahead, as the country proceeded on the path of democratization, national reconciliation, developmental growth and reform. He also expressed appreciation for the tireless efforts undertaken by his Special Adviser Vijay Nambiar.

New York, 23 September 2016

Remarks at Meeting of the Partnership Group on Myanmar


Remarks at Meeting of the Partnership Group on Myanmar
New York, 23 September 2016[as prepared for delivery]

Welcome to this Meeting of the Partnership Group on Myanmar. Thank you all for your participation.

I welcome His Excellency Kyaw Tin, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, to this meeting in New York today.  

I held productive talks in Naypyidaw last month with Myanmar’s top leaders during my fifth visit to Myanmar as Secretary-General.  

The overwhelming popular mandate that the people of Myanmar have given to the new Government is a sign of the trust and confidence they have placed in the National League for Democracy. It is also recognition of their immense struggle and sacrifice over the years.  

I was also encouraged by their recognition of the need for continued dialogue between all stakeholders, including the military and civil society, with a view to promoting greater ethnic, political, religious and gender inclusiveness.

The project of nation-building in Myanmar is far from over. But there are already concrete and promising results.

As Myanmar moves to consolidate democracy, advance justice, and ensure durable peace, human rights and sustainable development for all its peoples, it will need sustained engagement, support and encouragement from the United Nations and the international community.  

My participation in the 21st Century Panglong Conference highlighted the commitment of the United Nations, especially in the area of national reconciliation.

The goal of a federal union based on democratic equality, power sharing and prosperity for all is realistic and achievable.  

In order to reach that goal, all stakeholders must proceed on a unified track of political dialogue and negotiations, addressing issues equitably and fairly. I urge all sides to show flexibility and mutual accommodation.

The United Nations will remain a respectful partner as the peace process deepens.

During my recent visit, I also discussed the importance of addressing the complex challenges in Rakhine, one of Myanmar’s poorest regions.

I conveyed the strong international expectation that urgent steps will be taken to end discrimination and improve the desperate situation of displaced people who are confined to camps with severe restrictions on their freedom of movement.

In the longer-term, I stressed that core issues, including that of citizenship and legal status for the Rohingyas, must be addressed.

Myanmar’s leaders are aware of the expectations of the international community. The decision to establish an Advisory Commission on Rakhine, chaired by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, is a demonstration of their commitment to make progress on this issue.  

The whole United Nations system, with our partners in the international community, stands ready to extend our support and assistance, while respecting domestic primacy.

We are at a unique moment for progress on addressing human rights issues in Myanmar, including political prisoners, restrictive laws that the NLD opposed in the past, and land confiscations.

Institutional measures to combat discrimination and promote a more tolerant and inclusive society will be essential.  

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has many years of expertise in creating frameworks and systems to support countries in meeting their human rights obligations.

I repeat my call for the government to make use of these resources by establishing an OHCHR country office with a full mandate, as soon as possible.  

This Partnership Group has played an invaluable role in supporting Myanmar on its journey to advance peace, democracy and human rights.  Myanmar’s reform process should bring about further progress in these areas, and should include the normalization of the country’s engagement with the international community.  

I believe it is now timely to consider winding up this forum, while exploring ways to continue your constructive engagement with the Myanmar authorities.  

As this will be my last meeting of the Partnership Group, I take this opportunity to thank you all for your cooperation over the years.  

I would also like to thank my Special Adviser, Mr. Vijay Nambiar, for his tireless mediation and quiet diplomacy.  

Ten years ago, when I was appointed to this position, the holding of peaceful, democratic elections in Myanmar was a distant dream. Last year, the people of Myanmar made it a reality.

I am sure you share with me a feeling of enormous privilege to witness and play some small part in this journey.

Thank you.

The High Cost of Fighting an Unwinnable War

By Ms. Renata Dessallien, UN Resident Coordinator in Myanmar.

On the morning of August 31st, I had the honor of attending the opening session of the Union Peace Conference—21st Century Panglong Nay Pyi Taw. As the nation’s top leaders from Government, Tatmadaw, Parliament and Ethnic Armed Organizations, as well as the UN Secretary-General, each took to the podium, there was an inescapable feeling of being part of an historic moment. This moment, shared by millions of viewers following the live broadcast on television, was a glimpse of a very real possibility that Myanmar will finally find its pathway to lasting peace across the land. The path ahead is uncertain, but the nation’s collective yearnings for such a break-through have been raised to the highest point in many years.

Today, September 21st, is the United Nation’s official International Day of Peace. It is a useful moment to reflect upon the ideal of peace both within and among all nations and peoples, as well as to contemplate Myanmar’s own prospects for lasting peace. This day was established in 1981 by the United Nations General Assembly, and every year on this day around the world the UN partners with host governments and others to promote sustainable peace.

In very few places will the 2016 International Day of Peace have as much resonance as in Myanmar. This resonance comes, in part, because of the very painful toll taken by the conflict on Myanmar’s people over more than sixty years of conflict – one of the world’s longest running civil wars. Tens of thousands dead, hundreds of thousands internally displaced or refugees, and untold numbers of incidents, large and small, of injustices, indignities and suffering. For those that have lived it first hand, there can be no denying the age-old adage that “war is hell”. Yet one of the oddities of this current phase of the armed conflict is that for many citizens in Yangon, and some States and Regions, this hell is all but invisible, and a distant murky alternative reality.

Yet the cost of Myanmar’s long-running conflict since independence is all too real. The hardest hit see their sons and daughters killed or maimed in battle; others are forced to flee their homes at a moment’s notice. But all of Myanmar’s people suffer very real consequences in perhaps less obvious ways.

One of the consequences is related to how Myanmar’s limited financial resources are utilized. Fighting a war, wherever it may be, requires a tremendous investment, and Myanmar is no exception. When one considers the totality of the war and its costs, it is clear that sixty years of armed conflict is a drain on the people of Myanmar. At the same time, the hard reality for Myanmar is that it is also among the lowest tier of nations on UNDP’s Human Development Index – placing 148th out of 188 countries in 2015. Simply put, far too many people live in abject poverty without means to earn a decent living or sufficient access to basic services such as health care and education. Far too many mothers die giving birth and far too many children die at an early age of preventable diseases. We do not see the school or health clinic not built, but the consequences of these gaps are very real. On a fundamental level Myanmar needs to find a way to shift more of its resources away from armed conflict and into lifting the country out of poverty. Achieving peace is a critical step on this path.

Looking ahead, there is much to be optimistic about. I am constantly struck by the Myanmar peoples’ resilience, lack of desire for revenge and retribution, and admirable drive to move the nation forward. The pace of change in Yangon, and in other parts of the country, in recent years is staggering, and the boom of vehicles, mobile telephones, buildings and businesses is very visible. Myanmar was one of the world’s fastest growing economies in 2015. As international actors move to normalize relations with Myanmar this will open the way for still stronger economic growth.

But Myanmar will never be able to achieve its full potential without an end to the long-running conflicts that afflict different parts of the country. History gives us very few examples of nations being able to achieve stability and prosperity while also fighting an internal conflict. In recent weeks the South American nation of Colombia, which has fought a decades-long civil war of its own, signed a peace treaty with rebel forces. This was a conflict which many had labelled intractable. But ultimately, all sides gradually came to realize that a decisive military victory was simply not achievable, and there were only two paths to choose from; to condemn the country to perpetual war or to seek a negotiated political settlement. They had the wisdom to choose the latter.

Looking back over more than six decades of war in Myanmar, a stock-taking of lost opportunities is sobering. How many families became mired in poverty due to the loss of a breadwinner or being forced to relocate? How many miles of road or power lines were not built that would have opened up the economies of rural areas? How many children grew up without access to education and today struggle as adults to find a role in a modernizing economy? What would Myanmar look like today if an earlier generation of leaders had been able to avoid the war altogether? These are difficult reflections, but let us not leave our children and grandchildren to make the same reflections about us – and what would have happened if a political settlement had been reached.

It is unlikely that Myanmar will see a more favorable climate for peacemaking for some years to come. It is important to recognize and embrace these moments in which a complex set of national and international factors align to create a situation that is genuinely ripe for peace. But peace will not make itself, and Myanmar’s leaders, with international support, must be bold and creative in crafting inclusive and sustainable solutions to bring this long and difficult chapter of armed conflict to an end.…/the-high-cost-of-fighting-an-unwinna…