Myanmar’s government has accepted an invitation from the rebel Kachin Independence Organization to hold peace talks next month, negotiators said Wednesday, following fighting that has forced thousands from their homes and cast a shadow over plans for a nationwide cease-fire.
The talks will be held in the Kachin state capital likely before the third week of May, negotiator Hla Maung Shwe from the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center said.
He said President Thein Sein’s top peace negotiator, Minister Aung Min, had received the KIO’s letter of invitation on Tuesday and his office had responded with his acceptance.
A firm date has not been set, but the meeting is expected to take place before government negotiators meet in Yangon for separate talks with the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team(NCCT), an umbrella organization of rebel groups including the KIO working on a joint cease-fire accord.
“We are going to meet with the NCCT on May 19 and 20, so it can be said that [the meeting] with the KIO will be before that date,” Hla Maung Shwe told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
The KIO is one of only two rebel groups that has not reached a full cease-fire agreement with the government since President Thein Sein began a bid in recent years to end decades of conflict and speed up reforms as the country emerges from military rule.
The KIO had earlier this week asked to meet with government negotiators on May 10, in a request that followed escalated fighting between the two sides' militaries in recent weeks.
Relief groups have said thousands of civilians have been forced to flee in the fighting—part of clashes that have flared on and off since a 17-year cease-fire was shattered in June 2011.
Lamai Gum Ja, a representative on the KIO’s technical advisory team, said there had been no fresh clashes in the past few days, but expressed concern for those displaced since fighting erupted April 10 in the southeastern part of Kachin state and the northeastern part of Shan state.
“We have heard that they are in need of accommodations. They want to go back home, but there are still government troops in their areas,” he said.
“It is strange that whenever the government has discussions with the KIO or NCCT on peace, the fighting occurs,” Lamai Gum Ja said.
Local aid workers, however, said fighting continued Wednesday between government soldiers and the Kachin Independence Army—the KIO’s military wing—in Pangsai township in northern Shan state, local media outlet Kachinland News reported.
The KIO, whose last high-level talks with government negotiators were in October, has proposed inviting U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon’s Special Adviser for Myanmar Vijay Nambiar, Chinese Special Envoy for Asian Affairs Wang Yingfan, and members of the NCCT to attend the bilateral talks in May as observers.
KIO leaders have warned the recent clashes could scuttle nationwide cease-fire talks, saying they will not sign the nationwide cease-fire accord if the government tries to force it to the table through “military means.”
NCCT representatives gathered in Chiang Mai, Thailand this week agreed to meet with Myanmar government negotiators despite expressing reservations over a number of conditions imposed under a proposed nationwide cease-fire agreement.
Their concerns included a requirement for ethnic groups to disband their armies and doubts over the proposed formation of a federal union that should give ethnic states greater powers.
Reported by Zin Mar Win and Kyaw Kyaw Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.