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Representatives from the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and Naypyidaw’s official peace team held their first round of talks in government-controlled territory on Tuesday as the UN’s special envoy to Burma observed the negotiations.
The government’s team led by President’s Office Minister Aung Min and KIO officials made familiar promises to open a political dialogue and bring an end to fighting between the two sides.
“Today’s meeting mainly focuses on discussing principles. Previously, we held meetings in China’s Ruili town focusing the discussion on whether a political dialogue would really take place in the future,” said Guan Maw, Deputy Commander-in-chief of the KIO’s armed wing the Kachin Independence Army.
“The government stated that it will take place.”
As the meeting commenced, Burma’s military representative at the talks said the government was committed to putting an end to violence that’s rocked the country’s northern state since a ceasefire with the KIO collapsed in 2011.
“We are determined to hold union-level meetings with the KIA to reach a conclusive agreement to bring about a complete end to the bilateral fighting,” said Lieutenant-General Myint Soe, chief of the military’s Bureau of Special Operations.
While the two sides were due to meet in April, the talks were postponed as the KIO continued to push for the presence of international observers at the next round of negotiations.
Although representatives from western governments did not travel to Myitkyina, the United Nations’ special envoy to Burma Vijay Nambiar and members from the ethnic-umbrella organisation the United Nationalities Federal Council sat in on the arbitration at the invitation of the KIO.
According to Aung Htun Myint, a DVB reporter in the Kachin capital, representatives from the Chinese government were also in attendance.
Today’s meeting follows up on an earlier round of talks held in Ruili, China on 11 March, where the two parties agreed to reduce fighting, but failed to sign an official ceasefire agreement.
While the government has continually pushed for a new truce with the Kachin, the KIO have refused to sign any agreement until Burma’s ethnic groups are guaranteed greater political rights in the country.
According to Aung Htun Myint, the government’s chief negotiator Aung Min announced that President Thein Sein was planning to hold a larger conference this summer that would invite representatives from the country’s myriad armed groups to discuss ceasefires and open a political dialogue.
According to one analyst, the government must address the political grievances of the country’s ethnic groups if they hope to bring an end to fighting.
“I think there will be a political dialogue. I don’t think there will be any kind of alternative to that,” said Paul Keenan, research coordinator at the Burma Centre for Ethnic Studies.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a substantive one for at least another year or so. So really what I think what the [KIO] are doing now is they’re going to be trying to make sure that it is on the table and that the government will actually at least try to give them enough trust to try to believe it.
“These meetings right now are just trust-building exercises.”
During a speech in Rangoon on Monday, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi slammed the government’s recent reforms for failing to produce ‘tangible changes’ and said Burma’s officials were continuing to discriminate against the country’s ethnic minorities.
“My ethnic representatives said that as long as there is inequality among the races of Burma, there will not be peace,” said Suu Kyi, according to a report published in the Irrawaddy on Monday.
As the Kachin delegation arrived in Myitkyina on Monday, thousands of supporters lined the streets to greet the convoy, effectively dispelling the government’s familiar narrative that the KIO did not have the support of the Kachin populace.
“Around 40,000-50,000 locals showed up unannounced yesterday,” said Aung Min during his opening address.
“We can see everyone wishes for peace. I strongly believe that this meeting will [produce] a fruitful agreement.”