Burmese authorities and Kachin rebels agreed on Tuesday to de-escalate tensions and forge ahead with peace talks aimed at reaching a “firm cease-fire,” in an advance in efforts to end their long-running conflict.
Top military representatives from both sides involved in the fighting that broke out anew in 2011 joined in peace talks held Monday and Tuesday in the Chinese border town of Ruili, the second round of meetings held since fighting eased in late January.
A joint statement issued on Tuesday said they had agreed to make efforts for a strong cease-fire, to open coordination offices, and to hold another round of talks before April 10 this year, according to China’s official Xinhua new agency.
"Agreement has been reached to continue [talking] until we get a firm cease-fire based on mutual understanding, respect, and trust, to start real political dialogue," the statement said, adding that the “step-by-step" talks must be followed by orders to "responsible grassroots-level troops from both sides.”
They also discussed plans for the reopening of the road from Bhamo to Laiza, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) headquarters at the center of fighting that escalated in December with Burmese military virtually surrounding the town.
The Burmese delegation led by Minister Aung Min included Lieutenant General Myint Soe—a senior leader in the Ministry of Defense—and the Burmese military’s northern commander Brigadier General Tun Tun Aung, who oversees operations in Kachin state.
Leading the Kachin side was KIA’s vice chief of staff Major-General Guan Maw and Swan Lut Gam, the head of the peace negotiation committee of the KIA’s political wing.
Government-appointed mediator Hla Maung Shwe, of the Rangoon-based NGO Myanmar Egress, said the meeting was surprisingly successful because of the attendance of senior officials and military representatives, as well as observers from the United Nationalities Council—an alliance of armed ethnic resistance movements that includes the KIA.
“I think the meeting was much more successful than we expected. Both sides discussed issues in a friendly way with transparency,” he told RFA's Burmese Service.
“Because we spoke together in front of all these [representatives], I think, the meeting was more meaningful and warm.”
He added that the two sides had discussed communication routes and transportation.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the Burmese government delegation and Kachin rebels had agreed to continue their efforts to start "real" political dialogue on the basis of mutual understanding, respect, and trust, according to China’s official Xinhua news agency.
China, which has a flood of refugees pouring across its border and has urged an end to the fighting, also hosted the previous round of talks in February.
Since then, only sporadic clashes were reported, KIA representatives told the local Irrawaddy online journal.
A dozen rounds of talks have been held between the government and the Kachin since a 17-year cease-fire agreement was shattered in 2011 with no major breakthrough and amid allegations of rights violations by the Burmese government forces.
Barrier to reforms
While the two sides met in Ruili, the U.N.’s rights monitor for Burma said in his report to the agency’s top rights body that the Kachin conflict threatened to upset progress on the reforms Burma is carrying out as it emerges from decades of military rule.
Special Rapporteur for human rights in Burma Tomas Ojea Quintana told the U.N. Human Rights Council that rights violations linked to the Kachin conflict—along with ethnic tensions between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists in western Burma—remain unresolved.
“While the process of reform is continuing in the right direction, there are significant human rights shortcomings that remain unaddressed, such as discrimination against the Rohingya in Rakhine state and the ongoing human rights violations in relation to the conflict in Kachin state,” said Quintana, who visited Burma last month.
The Rakhine and Kachin issues should be addressed “before they become further entrenched and destabilize the reform process,” he said, raising concerns about 75,000 refugees displaced in the Kachin conflict.
“I’m particularly concerned about the situation of the 40,000 displaced in nongovernment-controlled areas of Kachin state, and urged the government to provide humanitarian organizations with regular access to these areas,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.