A successful national ceasefire agreement between the Myanmar government and ethnic armed groups will be a watershed moment in the country's history and will shape its future for the rest of the century, renowned historian and author Thant Myint U said.
The agreement, which is currently being drafted by a joint committee comprising the army, the government and the armed ethnic groups, is expected to be ready before the end of July. It will give the new government to be elected next year a foundation of stability to work on, he said.
"We are now in intense talks on a daily basis," Dr Thant Myint U told a gathering of prominent businessmen and scholars here yesterday.
He was speaking on ASEAN: New Markets, New Opportunities, organised by the WongPartnership Leaders Forum 2014.
Myanmar is one of Asia's most diverse countries with as many as 17 major ethnic groups, some of which have been at war with the military government for decades.
Ethnic tensions have also burst into the open after President Thein Sein, a former general, took charge of a quasi-civilian government in 2011 and pushed reforms that ended Myanmar's pariah status and sparked an investment boom. The reform process has been institutional, such as detaching the central bank from the Finance Ministry, democratic - reconciliation with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi - and social, with people no longer afraid to speak more freely.
But the transition to a democratic government and sustained growth is impossible without the successful conclusion of the peace process, Dr Thant Myint U said.
He later joined a panel discussion with Mr S. Pushpanathan, former deputy secretary-general of ASEAN, and Mr Choo Chiau Beng, senior adviser of Keppel Corp.
With the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) expected to be launched next year, the panel said there was a need to explain the AEC's goals of a single market, free movement of goods and services and freer flow of capital to the people of the 10-member ASEAN grouping.
This article was published on April 16 in The Straits Times.
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