Myanmar signed a tentative cease-fire agreement with ethnic Kachin rebels Thursday, a lead negotiator said, following three days of talks the two sides hope will end hostilities that have marred the country’s transition to democracy from a military dictatorship.
Representatives from the government and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) met for the first time in Myanmar since fighting erupted two years ago and signed a pledge to end hostilities in the region, negotiator Hla Maung Shwe of the European Union-backed Myanmar Peace Center said.
Previous talks had been held across the border to the north in China’s Yunnan province, which is also home to a large Kachin minority community.
“After many meetings during the three-day talks, we finally signed a seven-point agreement,” Hla Maung Shwe told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
The two sides, which met in the Kachin state capital of Myitkyina, agreed to continue holding talks, work on preventing further fighting, establish a joint monitoring committee with representatives from both parties, and resettle the nearly 100,000 people displaced by the clashes, Hla Maung Shwe said.
He said the agreement also called for negotiations on the placement of soldiers, the establishment of a team of KIO representatives to work closely with the Myanmar government in Myitkyina, and further, more inclusive talks to be held in the near future.
Deputy Chief of Staff Guam Maw of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which is the military wing of the KIO, said that while the agreement is not a full cease-fire, it is a major step towards lasting peace.
“The KIO promised in Ruili that we would work towards a concrete cease-fire agreement if the government made efforts to address our concerns politically,” he said.
“The agreement we signed today is not a complete cease-fire agreement, but it is one that will move us towards one. The most important aspect of these talks was that we were all able to express our expectations for political inclusion in a free manner.”
The decision to pursue political dialogue was a key demand of the Kachin, who say they want greater autonomy and increased representation in reformist President Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government, which took power from the former junta in 2011 and set the country on a path to democracy.
Hla Maung Shwe said that Aung Min, a minister in Thein Sein’s office who led the government delegation, had conveyed the president’s hope to meet the needs of all of Myanmar’s people and said that building peace with its ethnic populations would be part of that effort.
“To meet the people’s needs, Minister Aung Min believes a cease-fire agreement is needed with the KIO,” he said.
“When we have achieved that, the president hopes to hold an all-inclusive discussion with every ethnic group in [the capital] Naypyidaw.”
Thein Sein has signed cease-fire agreements with most of Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups, but the KIA had held out on peace talks until recently. The two sides had a cease-fire agreement in place for 17 years until it broke down in June 2011.
Fierce fighting occurred as recently as December, when the Myanmar military used air strikes against the KIA, but the violence has since eased.
The Myintkyina talks were also attended for the first time by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's special adviser on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, as well as by a representative from China, and Hla Maung Shwe said that the international presence may have helped influence a positive outcome.
“These talks were the best I have attended in the last year-and-a-half. They received the most attention from the international community and the people, and yielded some of the best results I’ve seen,” he said.
He said the two sides expect to meet again within a month to further solidify the peace process.
The positive response to Thursday’s talks was echoed by representatives of both the Myanmar government and the Kachin rebels.
“The agreement we signed today was a good result from three days of talks,” Lt. Gen. Myint Soe of the Myanmar Ministry of Defense told RFA following the meeting.
Myint Soe said that the Myitkyina talks had yielded a much more constructive outcome than previous talks he had attended in Ruili, across the border in China’s Yunnan province.
“The dream of our people and the local population in Kachin state will soon come true,” he said.
Reported by Kyaw Myo Min and Kyaw Kyaw Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.