Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Myanmar govt, KIO agree to reduce ‘tension’, hold more talks

Leaders of the government's peace team and the Kachin Independence Organisation have agreed to reduce "military tension" in Kachin State and hold further peace talks, they said in a joint statement following a February 4 meeting in China.

The meeting, which took place in Shweli, just across the border in China's Yunnan Province, came after more than a month of intense fighting between the Tatmadaw and Kachin Independence Army, and a failed attempt by President U Thein Sein to force a ceasefire.

"At the meeting, discussions were made on matters concerning establishment of a communication line between the two sides, the reduction of military tension, preparation of the next meeting, and persons who may attend as observers and organisations which may attend as witnesses, at the next meeting," said a joint communique issued by the parties at the conclusion of the talks.

"Agreement was reached to continue discussions for the speedy realisation durable cessation of war between the government and KIO, and the emergence of a monitoring system."

The Myanmar government delegation was lead by vice chairman of the Union Peace Making Work Committee, U Aung Min, who is also a minister in the President's Office. The Kachin were represented by a KIO negotiation team.

Mr Luo Zhaohui from China's Foreign Ministry, General Mutu Say Poe of the Karen National Union (KNU) and members of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) were also present.

However, no members of the Tatmadaw attended. A previous attempt to bring commanders from both sides together failed when senior Tatmadaw figures attended peace talks on October 30, 2012 but the KIA did not reciprocate.

"It was interpreted as a snub by the military and left government negotiator U Aung Min undermined as he had worked hard to convince the army to send a very senior army commander to attend the talks in China only for him to be stood up," Jim Della-Giacoma of the International Crisis Group said in a recent article on the conflict, "A serious threat to peace in Myanmar."

The next meeting will take place before the end of February, after the KIO has discussed the situation with other members of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC). The UNFC is an umbrella organisation of more than 10 ethnic groups formed in early 2011.

While few other details of the talks were released, the KIO indicated it welcomed further talks.

"Yesterday's meeting was only about preparations for further meetings between the two sides," Sung Lyut Gam, who headed the delegation from the KIO, told AFP on February 5.

"We cannot say exactly how optimistic we are about reaching a proper deal as we don't know what the other side is thinking," he said. "It would be good if this kind of meeting continues in the future."

The United States, which in January angered the government with a statement condemning the failure to end the fighting in Kachin, said it was pleased with the initial meeting.

"I welcome reports that the government and the KIO/KIA have concluded preliminary talks toward a cessation of hostilities. It is encouraging that the two sides concluded a joint statement that discusses the process and timing for further dialogue. Dialogue and cooperation between the two sides is the only path to sustainable peace in Kachin State," US ambassador to Myanmar Derek Mitchell said through the US embassy in Yangon's Twitter account.