Peace talks aimed at ending more than half a century of conflict between Myanmar's army and an array of armed ethnic rebel groups are due to start in the capital, Naypyitaw, on Wednesday.
The talks are the first formal peace negotiations since Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party swept elections last November and took office in April, vowing that national unity would be its top priority.
Suu Kyi is expected to address the five-day conference, along with the powerful head of the nation's military, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and representatives of at least 17 of the 20 main armed groups. Hundreds of delegates are expected to attend. Armed ethnic conflict has plagued Myanmar for decades.
The first uprising launched by ethnic Karen insurgents began shortly after the country gained independence from Britain in 1948. Restoring stability nationwide is crucial to Myanmar's long-term political and economic health. Ethnic minorities make up about 40 percent of the population, and stability can't be achieved without their support. Although the formal start of negotiations is a positive step, this week's meeting is likely to be largely ceremonial, with discussions of contentious issues delayed until later rounds.