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The decision to delay the next round of peace-talks between the Burmese government and the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) was “mutual” and based on a lack of adequate time to prepare, a rebel spokesperson told DVB on Tuesday.
It follows reports that the Chinese authorities were responsible for delaying the meeting – initially scheduled to take place before 10 April – by objecting to the presence of international observers.
“No one is to be blamed, it is because we are all unprepared,” said Dr La Ja, General-Secretary of the KIO. “We need [more] time for each group to participate, including the international community, governments and also UNFC [United Nationalities Federal Council] members and other ethnic armed groups – they all have to prepare.”
Dr La Ja said that while he had heard reports of China’s reluctance to participate in the talks alongside “other governments”, he did not think it was the “main reason” for the delay. He could not confirm whether the Burmese government had given approval for international observers to attend, but suggested that the UN, US and UK were all interested in joining the talks, along with China.
A group of civil society organisations recently accused the Asian superpower of playing a direct role in blocking the upcoming peace talks. In a statement released on Saturday, 13 NGOs warned that “the Chinese government would not attend the event if UK and US officials would also be present” and “would also object” if it went ahead without them.
The Chinese government has publicly rebutted the allegations, insisting that “logistical arrangements” were the main reason for the delay.
“China fully respects the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Myanmar [Burma] and supports the Myanmar government in its efforts to maintain national unity and ethnic harmony,” it said in a statement on Sunday.
According to a government peace negotiator, the talks were delayed at the request of the rebels themselves.
“In the evening of 3 April, the group contacted [head government peace negotiator] Aung Min to say they wished to postpone the meeting because there was not enough time for all the observers to attend,” Hla Maung Swe from the Myanmar Peace Centre told DVB on Monday.
Last week, another KIO spokesperson told DVB they would refuse to attend any future meetings, especially in government-controlled areas, unless a team of international observers were present.
“The government was [hinting] that it would be inappropriate for them to invite [foreign officials] but they could be considerate to the KIO if we made the invitations,” said La Nan in an interview, adding that they were still waiting for a response from the government.
China has played a key role in facilitating peace negotiations between the two warring parties, including hosting two rounds of talks in the border town Ruili. The most recent talks were held in early February after the Burmese government stepped up its military assault on the Kachin rebel headquarters in Laiza, which is nestled against China’s western border.
Other analysts have also suggested that China is reluctant to include outsiders in a process that could potentially damage their geopolitical interests. Khun Okka from the UNFC, who attended the February dialogue along with other ethnic minority representatives, accused the superpower of seeking to “subtly” influence the peace process.
“The [Chinese] were implying that the meeting should only be held at Ruili and nowhere else and that they would not send their representative if it is held elsewhere. They said that even if it takes place in Ruili, they would not allow representatives from other countries and governments,” he told DVB.
China has direct strategic and economic interests in Burma’s northern state, including numerous lucrative hydropower and mining projects. Aid workers say China also wants to avoid another influx of Kachin refugees spilling into their territories, after forcing thousands of civilians back into the conflict-torn state last summer.
The Kachin Independence Army, which is fighting for greater autonomy and ethnic rights in northern Burma, has been locked in a bloody battle with government forces since June 2011, when a 17-year ceasefire broke down over a dispute near a Chinese-backed hydropower dam. The rebels have repeatedly called for a political solution as a key provision for sustainable peace.
The next meeting is likely to be held in late April – after the Thingyan New Year festival – in the state capital Myitkyina.
-Additional reporting provided by DVB staff