Kachin, Myanmar Negotiators Set for Talks to Curb Fighting

Myanmar government negotiators and ethnic Kachin rebel leaders arrived in the Kachin state capital on Monday for talks aimed at containing escalating clashes despite a pact last year to reduce hostilities and help bring an end to their long-running conflict, leaders said.

Cheering crowds welcomed Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) general secretary Sumlut Gam and deputy commander-in-chief of the group’s military wing General Gun Maw as they rode into the city ahead of two-day talks beginning on Tuesday with President Thein Sein’s top peace negotiator Minister Aung Min.

The KIO had requested the talks late last month following a flare-up in clashes, which according to the government killed at least 22 combatants from both sides last month, casting a shadow over government plans for a nationwide cease-fire agreement with all armed ethnic groups.

Local Kachin media reported “fierce” fresh clashes on Monday, the latest in a number of pitched battles following the April launch of a government mop-up operation against the rebels in the south of Kachin state and the north of neighboring Shan state.

KIO spokesperson Daung Kha said the talks would be aimed at discussing the reasons the fighting was continuing despite a previous agreement to reduce hostilities and work toward ending the conflict.

“We were weak in building trust with each other,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“We are going to discuss why we have had fighting despite having agreed on those points.”

Reducing fighting

Hla Maung Shwe, a negotiator from the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center, said discussions would cover the implementation of agreements reached in October, the last time the two sides met for high-level talks in Myitkyina.

“We had several agreements on October 10, 2013. Some of them are not implemented yet and we are going to work on them during this meeting,” he told RFA.

“We will also continue discussing the points that we haven’t agreed on, including reducing the fighting,” he said.

Hundreds of Kachins lined the streets of Myitkyina and shouted slogans of support to welcome the KIO convoy, which had traveled from the organization’s headquarters in Laiza.

Aung Min and fellow members of his delegation—member of parliament Thein Zaw, Minister of Electric Power Khin Maung Soe, Home Affairs Minister Khin Ye, and Minister of Livestock, Fisheries and Rural Development Ohn Myint—spent Monday meeting with 10 locally based political parties, ethnic Shan organizations, and Christian groups after arriving in the city.

Also attending Tuesday’s meeting will be two U.N. representatives, Kachin State Chief Minister La John Ngan Sai, military officials from Myanmar’s Northern Regional Command, and 20 ethnic leaders from armed rebel umbrella groups the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) and the Nationwide Cease-fire Coordination Team (NCCT).

Nationwide cease-fire

The NCCT, which represents the KIO and 15 other rebel groups, is set to meet with government negotiators later this month in Myanmar’s former capital Yangon to discuss plans for a nationwide cease-fire encompassing all of the country’s rebel groups.

KIO leaders have warned the recent clashes could scuttle the talks on the nationwide cease-fire, which President Thein Sein has been pushing for in a bid to end decades of conflict and speed up reforms as the country emerges from military rule. 

Relief groups say some 5,000 people have been forced from their homes by fresh fighting since early April, on top of more than 100,000 forced to flee since a 17-year peace agreement was shattered in June 2011.

Kachinland News Group reported fresh clashes broke out Monday morning in Loi Lem Bum in Shan state’s Kutkai township, following battles in southern Kachin State on Sunday.

On Saturday, there were clashes in two areas in northern Shan state and two areas in southern Kachin state, the news group reported.

State media reported late last month that at least 8 government soldiers and 14 troops from the Kachin Independence Army, the KIO’s military wing, had been killed in Kachin state in April.

Reported by Tin Aung Khine for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.