The deputy commander-in-chief of one of Myanmar’s largest ethnic rebel armies has begun a 12-day visit to the United States to meet with lawmakers and officials amid ongoing clashes with government troops that could mar nationwide ceasefire negotiations.
Kachin Independence Army (KIA) General Gwan Maw met Monday with political affairs and human rights officials at the State Department after arriving in Washington a day earlier.
“We came here to share our situation with those who are interested in Myanmar and Kachin and with U.S. government officials,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
His four-member delegation was expected to raise issues related to a nationwide ceasefire agreement that Myanmar President Thein Sein’s government hopes will end decades of conflict with rebel groups and speed up reforms as the country emerges from decades under military rule.
The peace process has been sullied by fighting over the past three years between the Myanmar army and KIA troops in Kachin state, where a fresh round of clashes broke out on Thursday.
The recent clashes in Kachin state’s Mansi township near the Chinese border have displaced some 3,000 civilians, a coalition of aid groups working in the region said Monday, as the Myanmar army continued to attack KIA positions in the area.
The Joint Strategy Team coalition said some 200 people are believed to have crossed the border into China in recent days to escape the fighting, as most of the 800 inhabitants of the Lagat Yang internally displaced persons (IDP) camp and some 2,000 nearby villagers were forced to leave their homes, according to the Democratic Voice of Burma.
The fighting erupted days after Gwan Maw attended talks in Myanmar’s biggest city Yangon last week between government negotiators and rebel representatives in the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, a group of 16 rebel groups working on the ceasefire agreement.
Gwan Maw is one of two deputy leaders of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coalition Team, as well as deputy chief of staff of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), which is the political wing of the KIA.
In recent rounds of peace talks, Gwan Maw and other ethnic rebel leaders have called for their groups to be allowed greater autonomy under a federal union and greater control over natural resources in their areas, as well as for a federal military.
The KIA and Myanmar army have been embroiled in intermittent fighting since June 2011, when a 17-year ceasefire was shattered. More than 100,000 civilians have been displaced in the clashes since then.
Reported by Tin Aung Khine for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.