Kachin army, govt schedule new talks

Government officials will once again travel to the Chinese border town of Ruili to meet with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) as the two sides make a renewed attempt to end fighting in Burma’s north.

Kachin officials say clashes have broken out nearly every day across southern Kachin state and northern Shan state since the last set of talks in mid January. Up to 60,000 people have been displaced, many fleeing over the border into China.

The next meeting is scheduled for 8 March. “We will hold a Central Committee meeting [today] on what to discuss but mostly we will follow up with the topics covered [in previous discussions],” said KIA deputy chief of staff Maj-Gen Guan Maw.

The group wants to prioritise its future role in Burma’s political affairs in the ceasefire talks, although the government is reluctant to jump the gun on this. It says the negotiations should focus first on ending fighting and allowing the KIA to set up liaison offices.

The two sides have met seven times since fighting erupted in June last year, following the KIA’s refusal to transform into a government-aligned Border Guard Force.

According to the Wunpawng Ning Htoi aid group in Kachin state, around 15,000 refugees are sheltering in China, but their situation is precarious. Refugees are forced to lean on local populations, churches and poorly funded aid groups, who are struggling to meet their growing needs.

Wunpawng has warned that unless both the Burmese and Chinese governments drop their blockade on international groups providing assistance to the refugees, a food crisis could emerge.

Despite claims from Naypyidaw that it is pushing for a ceasefire with the Kachin army, reports have emerged in the past two months that troop presence is increasing close to KIA territory.

The KIO has said that a ceasefire alone will not solve the conflict in Kachin state, which can only be resolved if the government withdraws troops from the region. But with the region rich in natural resources, including jade and hydropower, the chances of that happening are slim.

Instead there is concern that any ceasefire will open the door for investors to sweep in to exploit energy reserves, which has historically been accompanied by large-scale displacement of civilians in Burma.

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