I was, I confess, quite looking forward to snapping photos of the Myanmar flags flying in Canberra next week during President Thein Sein’s planned visit to New Mandala‘s hometown. He has now postponed his stay in our “bush capital” citing “domestic commitments”. We all know that he has plenty to keep him busy in Naypyidaw.
For the moment we can only guess at exactly what motivated him to keep the focus on the home-front. My quiet hope is that the President is pushing hard for a peaceful and sustainable resolution to the new Kachin war.
That would certainly explain his reluctance to enjoy a few days of Australian summer.
Instead he may have put the priority on three key and symbolic dates in the Kachin calendar: Christmas Day (25 December), Kachin State Day (10 January) and Kachin Revolution Day (5 February). I doubt these looming milestones have escaped the attention of senior Myanmar government planners.
To my mind any of those special days could — with the right of mix of political savvy, generosity of spirit and good timing — provide a real catalyst for renewed peace efforts with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). And when you put Independence Day (4 January) and Union Day (12 February) into the mix the constellation is even more startling.
’tis the season, as they say.
Of course, after so much recent bloodshed and ill will, direct presidential intervention may be required to seal any final deal. For some time now I have been speculating on the prospect of a “statesman” scenario for ending the Kachin war: to my mind that would mean President Thein Sein would need to make a personal and unpredictable play.
Why would he do that? In 2012 he may well end up sharing TIME’s “Person of the Year” title. But if he really wants to earn the world’s applause then I wonder whether some well-targeted and well-timed domestic travel shouldn’t be on the immediate agenda.
So could President Thein Sein make a below-the-radar trip to the KIA base at Laiza to hammer out a new deal? In-person? Fanciful? Perhaps. But it would mark a magnificent and meaningful turning-point in relations between the warring sides. And it would certainly justify the accolades the President is receiving, and go some further way to proving the doubters wrong.