Kate Hodal in Rangoon
The Guardian, Monday 4 February 2013
Ethnic Kachin rebels have begun peace talks with the Burmese government in China after recent intense fighting saw the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) lose key positions around its headquarters in Laiza, northern Burma.
Senior negotiators from each side arrived in Ruili, a city on the Chinese border with Kachin state, including Aung Min, a high-ranking minister in the office of Burma’s president, Thein Sein, and the KIA’s second-in-command, General Gun Maw. The general was absent from earlier peace discussions in October, a move seen as a significant blow to the Burmese army.
Monday’s negotiations were also attended by other ethnic rebel groups in Burma, among them Karen and Shan leaders, as well as representatives from the Myanmar Peace Centre, an EU-funded government body that mediates conflict between the Burmese government and the country’s ethnic groups, Khon Ja of the Kachin Peace Network told the Guardian.
After seven hours of talks both sides released a statement saying they would work to calm military tensions, open lines of communication and invite observers to attend their next meeting to be held before the end of February.
The meeting is expected to be the first of many negotiations after 11 rounds of previous peace talks ended without solution.
The KIA, which has been fighting for nearly 50 years for greater autonomy, has repeatedly refused to sign a ceasefire deal until a political agreement is made with the Burmese government. It is the only ethnic group that has not yet signed a peace deal with Thein Sein’s administration.
Heavy fighting between the KIA and Burmese army resumed in July 2011 after 17 years of ceasefire, and is regarded as a serious setback to the economic and political reforms Thein Sein has instituted since taking power. The most violent skirmishes between began in December, when the Burmese army launched heavy artillery and air strikes, and for the first time in five decades used fighter jets and helicopter gunships against guerilla outposts.
Although Thein Sein called for a ceasefire in January, it was almost immediately ignored by the army, raising questions on how much power the president has over the military, which ruled the country for nearly 50 years until a quasi-civilian government was established in 2011.
The Chinese government is central to the mediation between the KIA and Burmese government as China, which shares a border with Kachin state, houses a significant number of Kachin refugees who have fled the fighting. Four mortars fired by the Burmese army also landed on Chinese soil last month.
Whether the peace talks will stop the continued fighting remains to be seen. The latest negotiations came just one day after the Burmese government shelled rebel outposts near Laiza, Khon Ja said, as well as across other parts of the state.