Global Agenda Council on Southeast Asia Member Thant Myint-U says the Forum’s network can help Myanmar emerge from isolation.

Trust has been a recurring theme at the Summit on the Global Agenda in Abu Dhabi and there are few countries where the issue is more crucial now than in Myanmar, where the government is trying to negotiate a nationwide ceasefire after decades of conflict and pave the way for elections in 2015.

Leading thinkers in fields ranging from natural resources to fragile states and human rights met at the Summit to discuss the latest developments in the Southeast Asian country, which finds itself at the intersection of several issues that are a priority for the Forum. The World Economic Forum’s Outlook on the Global Agenda 2014 looks at key challenges for Asia as well as the future of democracy, which was identified as an emerging issue by Global Agenda Council Members.

“There’s been amazing progress so far and I think we have to understand what a critical inflection point we’re at,” Thant Myint-U, founder and chairman of the Yangon Heritage Trust and a Member of the Global Agenda Council on Southeast Asia, said after a cross-Council session on Myanmar.

“This is not a war that has happened over the last few years, or even ten years. It’s a series of armed conflicts that go back to 1948 and despite there still being violence in some areas and some clashes in some areas, we have less armed violence than at any time since independence in 1948,” said Thant, who is also a special adviser at the Myanmar Peace Centre and, as a former UN official, served on three UN peacekeeping missions. (UN credentials run in the family; his grandfather was former UN Secretary-General U Thant.)

‘Trust needed now’

The government has negotiated 16 bilateral ceasefire arrangements with two major ethnic armed groups still holding out. Myanmar’s ethnic groups have long demanded greater political autonomy and control over local natural resources.

“The trust that’s needed now is for everyone to commit to a nationwide ceasefire and immediately following that, political talks to help address the grievances and the political issues involved,” Thant said.

“I think everyone wants to do that, but imagine with this history of armed violence and ethnic conflict a few months is necessary to build up that confidence and talk things over – a second time, a third time, a fourth time – for everyone to be able to commit comfortably and to be able to bring along all the people they need to bring along on their side into the process.”

Thant sees experts from the forum’s Global Agenda Councils playing potentially valuable roles in helping the peace process by providing information and comparative knowledge.

“In terms of outside expertise and comparative experience, the Forum is almost unparalleled in terms of the network it has to draw on,” he said. “Myanmar (has) been such an isolated country, without strong institutions like universities that might otherwise have these networks.”

Myanmar is due to hold parliamentary elections in 2015, with the new parliament then choosing a president. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said she wants to run for the presidency, but the current constitution, crafted under the former military regime, blocks her from becoming president because it excludes anyone whose spouses or children are foreign nationals from holding the post.

“I hope they will be free and fair,” Thant said of the elections. “That’s certainly the expectation. I think there are still questions about whether the constitution will be amended. There’s some hope, before then. But I think the elections will be held. And they will be historic.”

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Author: Thant Myint-U is Chairman of Yangon Heritage Trust and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on East-Asia.

Image: A displaced woman is seen on a refugee camp REUTERS/Soe Zeya.