The Myanmar government and ethnic Kachin rebels failed to nail down a permanent cease-fire accord after their latest round of peace talks ended Thursday, instead signing a new agreement aimed at reducing hostilities and laying the groundwork for political dialogue.
The deal between the government and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) ironed out new rules for teams monitoring clashes and arrangements for the resettlement of civilians displaced by fighting but stopped short of declaring a full cease-fire.
The seven-point deal, however, goes a step further than past agreements with government plans to link the Kachin rebels to a comprehensive nationwide cease-fire accord that includes all of the country’s armed ethnic groups.
As the KIO-government talks ended in the Kachin state capital Myitkyina, a key alliance of 11 of Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups including the KIO met in northern Thailand to discuss their strategy in upcoming talks for a nationwide cease-fire agreement.
Aung Min, the minister leading the government’s peace efforts, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that he was “optimistic” about forging the nationwide agreement.
“As the President has said, holding an all-inclusive political dialogue is the biggest goal for us, and all organizations said they are moving toward this dialogue,” he said.
Talks 'successful,' 'open'
On the talks in Myitkyina, the highest-level meeting between the two sides since May, Aung Min said they were “successful” while General Gwan Maw, deputy chief of staff of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the KIO’s military wing, said the two sides had been able to speak more “openly” than before.
But a report by the Kachin News Group, which focuses on northern Myanmar's war-torn Kachin state, quoted those familiar with the talks as saying that the government team pushed very hard for the KIO to agree to a two-way cease-fire while the rebels were “not prepared to sign on to [it] at this time.”
“The goodwill created between the KIO and the government over the past few months has been somewhat dampened by recent fighting in northern Kachin state's Putao district,” the report said.
“The KIO is also highly suspicious of recent moves by the army to send large numbers of troop reinforcements to southern Kachin state.”
The Kachin are the only major one of the country’s armed ethnic groups that has not yet signed a cease-fire agreement with the government, which is racing to end decades of fighting to speed up political and economic reforms after decades of military rule.
More than 100,000 people have been displaced in the deadly violence since a 17-year cease-fire agreement between the two sides broke down in 2011.
A joint statement indicated that both the KIO and the government were in favor of moving forward with an agreement reached in May aimed at deescalating tensions.
Aung Min said the two sides, which had previously agreed to form a cease-fire monitoring committee, set down five basic policies and 18 rules for the formation of teams to keep track of hostilities.
He also said that they would work on resettling internally displaced persons through pilot projects in four villages.
In talks to forge a nationwide cease-fire pact, the Kachin and other rebel groups have insisted that political dialogue be a key component of any agreement, emphasizing greater ethnic rights and a federal system of government.
The KIO delegation’s spokesman Daung Kha said after the meeting Thursday that the Kachin side had made gains this week in getting government negotiators to back down from their insistence on making a nationwide cease-fire agreement a precondition for political dialogue.
“The government had said they would hold political dialogues after signing the nationwide cease-fire,” he said.
“But [now] with the KIO it seems that the government is working toward the nationwide cease-fire and political dialogue at the same time.”
He said the KIO was in less of a rush to reach a nationwide cease-fire agreement than Aung Min’s team, which is under pressure to achieve the plan before 2015 elections and the end of President Thein Sein’s first term.
“The government wants to work on the peace talks within its own time frame … but our ethnic groups want to work step by step to make each step secure,” he said.
Aung Min’s team had hoped a comprehensive accord would be signed in July, but later postponed its goal to October and is now targeting November.
KIO leaders said at this week’s talks that before any government-organized nationwide cease-fire conference, they want to host their own meeting of armed ethnic groups to discuss how to respond to the government’s plans.
They may do so at their capital Laiza at the end of October, they said.
Representatives from ten ethnic armed groups which attended Thursday’s talks as observers said they would join the meeting.
“We have requested that the government let us know the government’s plans before signing a nationwide cease-fire agreement. Then the KIO will hold a conference with other ethnic armed groups,” Daung Kha said.
“We now are preparing to hold the conference.”
UNFC meets in Chiang Mai
Meanwhile in northern Thailand’s Chiang Mai city, the United Nationalities Federal Council, an alliance of 11 ethnic armed groups including the KIO, at its one-day meeting Thursday also called for more information about the planned comprehensive peace agreement.
“The government has to announce its plans for the nationwide-cease-fire and also has to move its troops …. and order its army to follow the rules,” UNFC Secretary-general Naing Han Thar said.
“We will sign the nationwide cease-fire agreement if we can get what we request. If not, we won’t sign it,” he said.
RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.