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Government negotiators and representatives from the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) have agreed to hold talks in Wa-administered territory in northern Shan state.
The United Wa State Army (UWSA) will host the two sides who have been engaged in conflict for the past year and a half.
According to USWA spokesperson Aung Myint, government negotiators accepted an offer earlier in the week from the ceasefire group to hold talks with the KIO in the Wa stronghold Panghsang. The KIO, the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), accepted the plan yesterday.
“The government responded to us a couple days ago [to say] they accepted the offer, and [yesterday] afternoon the KIA also got back to us – they agreed to come to the talks,” said Aung Myint.
No official date has been set for the talks as government troops inch closer to Laiza after taking a key KIA hill station over the weekend, which served as the last line of strategic defence for the Kachin stronghold.
The UWSA tabled the offer on 24 January to host the peace talks in Panghsang. President’s Office Minister and union-level peace negotiator Aung Min announced on 27 January during a meeting with civil society groups in Rangoon that his committee would go anywhere for peace talks, according to Hla Maung Shwe – a close aide and advisor to the minister.
On 19 January, the government sent a letter to the KIO asking to resume peace talks, but the group rejected their offer and insisted they directly negotiate with the United Nationalities Federal Council, an umbrella group made up of 11 major of the country’s ethnic armed groups including the KIO.
Hla Maung Shwe said the UNFC is tipped to meet with the Union-level Peace Making Committee in Thailand this February.
Kachin ethnic peace mediator La Mai Gunja urged both the government and the KIO to stop fighting to prevent further suffering of civilians caught in the crossfire and displaced by the conflict.
“We urged both the government and the KIA to sit at a table and find a way to end their dispute via political means,” said La Mai Gunja.
The UWSA signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in 1989 and is regarded as the largest and most powerful non-state militia in the country with a standing army of more than 20,000 troops armed with advanced weaponry. The militia has been consistently accused of producing and trafficking illicit drugs from their mountain stronghold in northern Shan state.