Burma’s parliament on Friday called for transparency in the government’s dialogue with Kachin rebels amidst an escalation of an armed conflict that has triggered a Chinese troop buildup along the border.
Parliament approved a proposal by ethnic Kachin lawmaker Thein Zaw Friday calling for openness in the talks in an effort to “ease tensions between the military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA),” which is seeking greater autonomy.
Thein Zaw, who is also the vice-chairman of the parliament’s peacemaking committee, said that the public must be made aware of concerns on both sides of the issue in order to avoid further conflict and to push forward the peace process.
“The local people are suffering from anxiety because of the army and the KIA’s fighting,” Thein Zaw said as tens of thousands of people have been displaced in northern Kachin State amid fighting since a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the KIA broke down in June 2011.
“This is not the stage at which to negotiate an agreement only through face-to-face roundtable talks between two groups. Representatives from both groups should let the people know their policies, attitudes and needs by transparently posting them online.”
Lawmakers will discuss how to implement the proposal into law in future parliamentary sessions, he said.
Kachin rebels say Burma’s new reformist government, which took power in March 2011 under President Thein Sein, is only negotiating based on a ceasefire, but has no intention of addressing the ethnic group’s demands for greater political power.
The Burmese military had launched air strikes against the KIA as it made a concerted push towards the rebel base in Laiza, saying the offensives were in response to KIA’s blocking the road to Lajayang, a vital logistics route.
The strikes drew condemnation from both the U.S. and the United Nations last week.
Thein Sein praised Burma’s military on Friday, according to a report by Agence France-Presse, for its “sacrifices in blood and sweat,” saying that the army had done everything possible “to make positive contributions to the peace process.”
He also extended an olive branch to the Kachin, according to a statement published by the official New Light of Myanmar, saying that “the door is always open for the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO)/the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) to discuss ceasefire terms.” The KIO is the political wing of the KIA.
Tensions in Kachin State have also spilled over into China, which shares a border with the region and which had forcibly returned scores of Kachin who fled the fighting last year.
Beijing has sent soldiers to the border between China’s Yunnan Province and Kachin State “to understand the situation,” Reuters news agency said Friday, citing a report by Chinese official media Global Times.
The report gave no details on the number or type of soldiers deployed by China, but said that as the result of shelling in Kachin State last week “residents of the unstable area quickly ran inside the Chinese border to pass the night in peace.” Yunnan is home to an ethnic Kachin population.
China has complained to Burma about several bombs landing on its territory during the air attacks on rebels.
Thousands of Kachin on either side of the Burma-China border joined an apparently coordinated protest on Thursday in a show of solidarity against what they said was a failure of Burmese authorities to listen to the ethnic group’s grievances, according to exile news agency Mizzima.
Thein Sein has promised to work toward national reconciliation following decades of military rule in Burma, which has been embroiled in wars with ethnic groups in its borderlands since its founding in 1948.
His government has signed cease-fire agreements with 10 ethnic groups, but experts say it is unclear whether Thein Sein, a general during the rule of Burma’s former military regime, exerts control over the country’s army after an order he issued in December 2011 to end military offensives against ethnic rebels was apparently ignored.
Despite the 10 ceasefire agreements, fighting has been ongoing in Shan, Kayin, and Kachin states. Multiple rounds of talks with the Kachin have yielded little progress.
Earlier this week, members of the United Nationalities Federal Council, a coalition of 11 armed ethnic groups seeking greater autonomy in Burma, urged an end to the conflict in Kachin state, calling on the government to declare a nationwide ceasefire and to settle disputes using political channels.
Reported by Win Naung Toe and Myint Oo for RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.