Myanmar's Suu Kyi reaches out to ethnic minority rebels

Yangon (AFP) - Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday vowed to press for greater autonomy for Myanmar's ethnic minorities, in an early move to soothe the rebellions roiling the country after her party's ascent to power.

Myanmar has been swept up in optimism for a more peaceful and prosperous future since the National League for Democracy (NLD) took power on April 1, ending nearly a half century of military domination.

But Suu Kyi warned its prospects hinge on ending ethnic conflicts that have blistered the country since its independence in 1948.

To do so, the NLD government would seek "a real federal democratic union", the democracy figurehead said in a televised address marking Myanmar's New Year.

"Peace and a federal democratic union are closely intertwined and that's why we need to change the constitution. The most important thing is national reconciliation."

They were Suu Kyi's first major comments as "state counsellor" -- a role she took on following the handover to her civilian-led government.

The current charter, penned by the military in 2008, centralises state power.

The former junta in part justified its tight control of the country with fears that ethnic divisions would fracture the nation.

- Daughter of a hero -

But the concept of federalism has gradually become central to peace discussions steered by the quasi-civilian government that replaced outright military rule in 2011.

Negotiations, which do not include all rebel groups, have yet to agree on exactly how powers such as policing or revenue raising might be shifted to regional authorities under a federal system.

But by reiterating the federal pledge, Suu Kyi has sought to reassure ethnic leaders that the NLD will not squeeze out minority groups.

Though Suu Kyi belongs to the ethnic Bamar majority, her party picked up seats in many of Myanmar's ethnic minority regions in last year's election.

She has however come under fire from rights groups for not throwing her moral weight behind the plight of the embattled Rohingya, a largely stateless Muslim minority pushed into grim displacement camps by waves of communal violence in 2012.

Nobel laureate Suu Kyi is beloved by many in Myanmar but blocked from becoming president by the constitution as her two sons carry foreign citizenship.

The 70-year-old is the daughter of the country's independence hero, who famously signed an agreement before his assassination that would have granted a level of autonomy to several ethnic minority regions.

Attempts to amend the army's charter under the former quasi-civilian government were stymied by the military -- which is gifted 25 percent of all parliamentary seats by the constitution it scripted.

Any fresh moves to change the charter are likely to meet stiff resistance from the military, which can veto amendments through its parliamentary bloc.

Suu Kyi has taken a firm grip of the country's first civilian-led government in decades, taking on a string of senior roles in the new administration, including the powerful -- if vaguely defined -- advisory role.

She has vowed to rule "above" the president, picking school friend and close aide Htin Kyaw as her proxy.

Conflicts continue to rage in several areas between ethnic minority armed groups and the army, which operates beyond the reaches of civilian government, after a ceasefire pact signed late last year failed to include all of the country's fighters.