Myanmar held fresh peace talks with Kachin rebels on Tuesday, with the top government negotiator saying the meeting could help pave the way for a comprehensive cease-fire agreement with all of the country’s armed ethnic rebel groups later this year.
The talks in the Kachin state capital Myitkyina, which lies in government-controlled territory, are the first held inside Myanmar since fighting between the country’s military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) resumed nearly two years ago.
The U.N.’s special adviser on Myanmar Vijay Nambiar joined the meeting as an observer, along with representatives from the Chinese Embassy and eight armed ethnic rebel groups.
More than a dozen rounds of talks held between the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the political wing of the KIA, and the government have failed to produce a cease-fire agreement.
The Kachin is the only major one of Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups who have not yet signed a cease-fire pact with President Thein Sein’s government.
At Tuesday’s two-hour meeting, both sides submitted proposals for creating a committee to monitor a cease-fire agreement and to conduct political dialogue, while the government delegation also made proposals for carrying out development in the region and continuing future talks.
Aung Min, a minister in President Thein Sein’s office who led the government delegation, said he hoped the meeting would help lead to a conference he is trying to arrange in the capital Naypyidaw with representatives from all of the country’s armed ethnic groups.
“If this meeting is successful, the president is very enthusiastic about holding a formal cease-fire signing agreement with all ethnic groups in June or July,” he said.
In previous talks, the government has made a cease-fire its priority, but the Kachin rebels want any agreement to include a political framework that could lead to long-term peace.
General Sumlut Gwan Maw of the Kachin Independence Army said the Kachin delegation discussed how the two sides could get to the point of conducting a political dialogue.
“The topic of today’s discussion from the government’s side was whether the KIO would sign a cease-fire agreement. Our side discussed how to have a political dialogue before signing a cease-fire agreement,” he said.
“We discussed only the policy today, and have not yet talked about the practical details.”
The KIO, which has an estimated 10,000 fighters, signed a cease-fire agreement with Myanmar’s military regime in 1994, but the agreement broke down in June 2011 when fighting erupted between the government army and KIA soldiers.
More than 100,000 people have been displaced in the deadly violence, which has overshadowed the reforms Myanmar has undertaken as it emerges from decades of military misrule.
In December, the military’s use of air strikes against the KIA caused an international outcry.
Union Minister Ohn Myint of the government delegation said Tuesday’s talks included discussion of civilians affected by the fighting.
“The KIO said that they have some plans for them and they will submit their plans to their central committee based on Minister Aung Min’s discussion,” he said after the meeting.
KIO leaders arrived in Myitkyina on Monday, greeted by thousands of Kachin supporters who took to the streets to welcome their convoy.
The talks are scheduled to last three days.
Reported by Zin Mar Win and Kyaw Myo Min for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.