As the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO)’s delegation rolled into Myitkyina on Monday, thousands of supporters filled the streets to greet the rebel convoy in a massive show of support ahead of the next round of peace talks that are set to begin in the state capital on Tuesday.
The delegation, led by the KIO’s Education Chief Sumlut Gam, entered the Kachin state capital around 1pm, as locals thronged the route to Majwe Hall, where talks will commence tomorrow between the KIO and a government delegation.
As the convoy passed, the crowd chanted the Kachin national anthem and played traditional instruments, while waving KIO flags in a sign of solid support for the rebels who have been fighting a bitter war against the government for two years.
“There’s a huge crowd of people, stretching over a mile from the Bhala Minhtin Bridge crossing the Irrawaddy River towards the Majwe Hall – they were playing instruments and signing the Kachin national anthem while waving flags,” said one local resident in Myitkyina.
According to the local at the scene, the massive greeting was spontaneous and had not been directed by any outside group.
“This wasn’t actually planned ahead – the KIO weren’t really keen for that either due to safety concerns. But we are all Kachin people of the same blood and would like to show that we fully trust and support the KIO’s work.”
Former KIO official Dr. Tuja said the location of the talks inside government territory was a testament to the increase in trust between the two sides after fighting intensified earlier this year when government troops launched a massive offensive against the rebel stronghold in Laiza.
According to the former KIO official, observers expect significant decisions to be discussed during this round of talks, which will also be attended by the UN’s Special Burma Envoy Vijay Nambia and representatives from the United Nationalities Federal Council – an umbrella organisation made up of 11 of Burma’s ethnic armed groups.
“This is the first ever meeting held in Myitkyina, the state’s capital, since 1994 and [the talks] aim to discuss topics including how to prevent further fighting, the formation of a Battlefield Monitoring Committee and to facilitate a political dialogue,” said Tuja.
“I hope something will come out of it.”
The KIO has been locked in nearly two years of fighting with government troops after a 17-year ceasefire collapsed in 2011. During the siege of Laiza, the military relied on airstrikes, helicopter gunships and heavy artillery to dislodge the rebels in what was one of the largest offensives launched against ethnic rebels by the government.
Naypyidaw has continually pushed for the signing of a new ceasefire with the KIO, but the rebels continue to push for greater political autonomy for the country’s ethnic minorities before inking a new deal.