U.N. special envoy to Myanmar Vijay Nambiar visited the headquarters of Kachin ethnic rebels for the first time Wednesday, meeting with officials from the group’s political wing and touring camps for people who remain displaced by fighting which ended under a peace agreement signed in May.
Nambiar, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Advisor on Myanmar, arrived in Kachin state’s Laiza, headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), and spent around five hours in the area, holding talks with KIO officials and inspecting camps for internally displaced people (IDPs).
Doi Pyi Sa, head of the IDP and Refugee Relief Committee (IRRC), told RFA’s Myanmar Service that four peace facilitators were included in Nambiar’s entourage and that though he spoke with KIO leaders at length, it was unclear what they had discussed.
“It was just a visit and we were not able to discuss anything with him because of his time frame,” he said.
“He and his group visited the Diya IDP camp and an IDP camp in Laiza.”
The Laiza visit follows the establishment of a KIO Technical Advisory Team in the government-controlled Kachin state capital Myitkyina last month as part of a seven-point peace agreement the two sides signed at the end of May.
The peace talks were mediated by both the U.N. and China in the Kachin capital. And while they fell short of negotiating a full cease-fire, provisions in the agreement include monitoring mechanisms that have contributed to a reduction in military conflict in the region, according to the Kachin News Group.
However, fighting between militias loyal to rebels and the government has increased in northeastern Kachin state since mid-August, the news site reported.
Nambiar had visited Myitkyina in February, when he met with Kachin families at an area refugee camp.
Nambiar met with Shan leaders in Myitkyina on Tuesday to discuss the status of their ethnic minority in Kachin state and said he was surprised to find that they were given little representation by the KIO.
Shan community leaders say around 20,000 members of their ethnic group have been displaced by the fighting in Kachin state, where Shan tribes have lived for centuries. Around 300,000 Shan live in Kachin state, which is home to about 1.2 million people.
A Shan tribal leader told RFA that he had spoken to Nambiar about the difficulties the displaced people of his ethnic group face in Kachin state.
“He replied that he thought the KIO and KIA [the organization’s armed wing] had been working for all people in Kachin state, but his impression was wrong because they have worked only for the Kachin ethnic group and not for the Shan,” the tribal leader said.
“The KIO and KIA are not representing our ethnic group, and we are not given any opportunity to have our voices heard.”
Shan leaders have said that many of the refugee organizations in Kachin state are Christian-backed and focus only on providing aid to the largely Christian Kachin population.
Members of the Shan community are also reluctant to take up offers to join Kachin refugee camps because they prefer to stay with their own ethnic group.
Shan leaders presented Nambiar with a letter containing a number of challenges the ethnic group faces in the region, and the envoy pledged to discuss the issue with the international community and rights organizations.
Last week, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, expressed concern over issues linked to the relief, rehabilitation, and resettlement of refugees in northern Kachin state which were covered under the seven-point peace agreement.
Speaking at the conclusion of a 10-day trip to Myanmar, he said that U.N. humanitarian agencies had been provided with access to nongovernment-controlled areas only once between July 2012 and July 2013, calling the information “extremely concerning, particularly with regard to food security.”
He said that he had also attempted to visit Laiza during the mission, but that the state and central governments were unable to grant him clear permission.
The Kachin say they want greater autonomy and increased representation in reformist President Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government, which took power from the former junta in 2011 and set the country on a path to democracy.
Reported by Tin Aung Khine and Kyaw Myo Min for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.