Myanmar’s Kachin rebel leaders have said they are “seeking ways” to join a key nationwide cease-fire accord proposed by the government and will host a meeting with other ethnic armed groups to discuss the plan, observers said after closed-door peace negotiations Wednesday.
The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) wants to host the meeting with other rebels before a government-organized conference on the nationwide cease-fire accord planned for November, they said, after the second day of talks in the Kachin state capital Myitkyina.
The talks are the first top-level negotiations since May between the central government and the KIO, one of the only major rebel groups that have not signed a cease-fire agreement with President Thein Sein’s administration.
Government peace negotiators, led by President’s Office Minister Aung Min, have said since earlier this year that they want to have all of the country’s ethnic rebel groups sign the comprehensive truce together after cease-fire agreements are individually reached with each.
But with the KIO—a member of a key rebel alliance—refusing to join, government plans to arrange a conference for the signing of the nationwide accord have been put on hold, first in June and again in October.
Hla Maung Shwe, a special adviser to the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), said after attending Wednesday’s meeting that he believed the KIO was considering signing the nationwide accord after hosting the meeting to discuss it with other groups.
“The KIO leaders did not refuse to sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement; they said they would find a way to sign it,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“I believe they will sign it as they said they are looking for ways to make it work,” he said.
Aung Min, however, said that although he did expect Kachin leaders to join a conference for the signing of the nationwide cease-fire in November, he did not expect them to go so far as to sign the accord itself, according to the Irrawaddy online journal.
Hla Maung Shwe said the KIO leaders want to host a meeting with other rebel groups and have asked for cooperation from the government in doing so.
“They requested the government to help them do this and Minister Aung Min has promised that he will help them as much as he can.”
The Kachin Independence Army's General Gwan Maw (left) and the Myanmar military's Lieutenant-General Myint Soe (right) chat during peace talks in Myitkyina, Oct. 8, 2013. Photo credit: RFA.
Fighting between government troops and the KIO’s military wing, which has an estimated 10,000 fighters, has overshadowed the reforms Myanmar has undertaken as it emerges from decades of military misrule.
More than 100,000 people have been displaced in the deadly violence since a 17-year cease-fire agreement between the two sides broke down in 2011.
In peace talks, the Kachin and other rebel groups have demanded the government hold a political dialogue that addresses their calls for greater rights and autonomy and for a federal system of government. Political dialogue
General Gwan Maw, deputy chief of staff of the KIO’s military wing and a top negotiator in the Kachin delegation, said that during Wednesday’s meeting his team had asked for more clarification from the government on its plans for how a nationwide cease-fire agreement would affect such a dialogue.
“We requested that the government let us know its project plans if it has decided to sign a cease-fire agreement to move toward political dialogue,” he told RFA.
In an interview with RFA earlier this week, Aung Min had said the nationwide cease-fire could be a springboard for political dialogue and indicated that the government was willing to discuss issues including equal rights and autonomy for ethnic groups, building a federal union, amending the constitution, and the sharing of power and resources.
Observer Than Khe, chairman of the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), said more specifics were needed in the negotiations on what political dialogue and a nationwide cease-fire would entail.
“We all have the same ideas about signing a nationwide cease-fire and conducting political dialogue, but the practical aspects of the plans are not clear,” he said. IDPs and territory maps
He added that both sides were “pleased” that they had managed to reduce clashes in recent months.
But skirmishes have been ongoing in recent months, including fighting in the northern district of Putao in August and September, according to the Kachin News group.
According to the group, in recent weeks aid workers have said residents of several villages in southern Kachin state have fled their homes out of fear that Myanmar forces are preparing for an offensive after reinforcements for government troops began arriving there.
Wednesday’s discussions also touched on issues related to civilians displaced by the conflict maps delineating territory controlled by government and rebel troops.
“We talked about the locations on the map where there could be fighting,” Lieutenant-General Myint Soe, the commander-in-chief of the Myanmar military forces in Kachin state told RFA.
Attendees are expected to release a five-point statement at the end of the talks on Thursday. UN rights envoy
On the sidelines of the talks, the U.N.’s special envoy to Myanmar for human rights Vijay Nambiar met with leaders of 10 armed ethnic groups in Myitkyina.
General Secretary of the Karen National Union Padoh Kwe Htoo Win said Nambiar, who observed the government-KIO talks on Tuesday, had urged the rebel groups to build trust with the government.
“We discussed with Mr. Nambiar how fighting is ongoing even though we have signed a cease-fire agreement with the government,” he told RFA.
“He said that there will still be fighting if both sides’ efforts don’t support trust-building.”
Reported by Kyaw Myo Min, Win Naing, and Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.