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Following rounds of negotiations aimed at ethnic unity, a nationwide ceasefire, political dialogue, the return of IDPs and other issues, the Kachin Independence Army’s vice chief of staff Gen. Gun Maw sat down with DVB to speak candidly about the current round of peace talks and the Kachin leader’s goals for the future.
Q: Why did you decided to organize a conference of ethnic armed groups in Laiza?
A: This kind of conference is what all the armed groups have been longing for. Since the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) is the only group left fighting against the government, we asked for permission to organize this conference and for the peace talks in Myitkyina.
Q: How did you reached a common agreement?
A: What all the armed groups want is to build a genuine union. And what we perceive is that the armed struggle is conducted at the cost of political dialogue. That’s why we have a problem. That’s why we have to settle our problems by political means. When the Burmese government called for ethnic armed groups to sign a national ceasefire agreement we thought this was a good thing.
But the question is: what are we going to do after signing the national ceasefire agreement? That’s why we convened and roundly agreed on proceeding to political dialogue and attending peace talks with the government.
Q: Will the armed groups insist on political dialogue before signing a ceasefire?
A: What we are saying is that we want guarantees for the political dialogue and we want to know what the Burmese government is going to do after signing the ceasefire. We want some proof that we can trust them and then we can move forward. If no such evidence exists then we cannot move forward.
Q: What do you mean by guarantees? You want government troops to withdraw?
A: The first thing we are asking the Burmese government is: do you genuinely want to resolve this conflict by means of political dialogue? If they have the genuine will to do so, then they have to announce to the international community that they are going to end the conflict through political dialogue and not with military power. After that, things like the withdrawal of troops will become a minor issue.
Q: Do you think the Myanmar government really wants peace?
A: When the Burmese government says “peace”, we remind them that this is a “peace process”. The Burmese define peace by signing agreements. They say that once you sign an agreement then there will be peace, but if you don’t sign there is no peace – that is the definition of the Burmese government, and that is the problem.
Q: How did the Myitkyina peace talks go?
A: We gave them our proposal and the Myanmar government gave us its proposal explaining how they wanted to establish a national ceasefire.
Q: Do you have high hopes for the peace talks in Hpa-an?
A: Yes, I hope that we will get to some mutual understanding towards the future.
Q: Do you envisage hostilities resuming?
A: The KIO is always saying to U Aung Min that we don’t want to sign a ceasefire agreement simply to prepare for the next round of fighting. This is why we are really careful. We want a ceasefire agreement that leads to political dialogue and not to another round of fighting. This is why we have not been able to sign any kind of agreement yet.
Q: Does the central government really have control of its generals in the field?
A: This is hard to say and is a question that I am often asked by the international community. But when we are having peace talks with the government and simultaneously the military invades an IDP camp and treats the IDPs brutally, then it clearly shows that the army is not listening to the government.
Q: What is the role of China in the peace process and the negotiations?
A: Now we are at the stage where the Chinese come and listen in on the peace talks. Previously they never attended because of their foreign policy on non-interference. We are thinking that China will progressively become more involved in the peace process and help solve this problem. Since China is a neighboring country, it must raise its voice one day. But are waiting to see how it raises its voice and in what ways its voice is practical for the peace process.
Q: What role will the Kachins play in the future of Myanmar/Burma?
A: We have to see it from two different perspectives. The first is that we have to create a future that relates to our history. The second point is how the government develops its policy towards that future.
When we signed the Panglong Agreement with Gen. Aung San in 1947, just one year before independence, we did not sign an agreement that demanded our rights. What we signed at Panglong was an agreement on how we were all going to live together equally in one country. Since the Burmese did not respect those promises, the different ethnic groups requested separation. Today all the ethnic groups are again demanding the establishment of a genuine union. Based on that perspective, the government must set a policy detailing what the future of our country will be.
Q: What about autonomy for the Kachin people?
A: This is about history, and every ethnic group has its own history. When the British came into Burma, some ethnic groups were already under the rule of the Burmese kings. Kachin, Chin and Shan peoples were never under Burmese rule. This is why, when we were about to win independence from the British, Gen. Aung San had to convince us that we should all negotiate independence together. At that time, he told the ethnic groups that the Burmese would not attempt to come and rule over us. This is what we are discussing now.