The Burmese government’s peace-negotiating delegation has selected Laos as a venue for the next round of ceasefire talks with ethnic Kachin rebels.
According to sources at the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the government delegation responded to the Kachins’ proposal that future peace talks be held in a third country other than China or Thailand by choosing Laos.
“It seems Laos is a more comfortable venue for them to have a meeting with us,” said a KIO official who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The previous government negotiators, led by Aung Thaung, a powerful executive of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party and a former Industry-1 minister, met with KIO officials in the Chinese border town of Ruili. If the government team—which will most likely include deputy commander-in-chief of the Burmese armed forces, Soe Win, meet with the Kachins in Laos, it will be the first time that Vientiane has been involved as a third party in Burma’s peace process.
Burmese President Thein Sein visited Laos in March, meeting his counterpart Choummaly Sayasone. The pair tried to boost bilateral relationships between the two nations, agreeing on increasing trade, and including plans to build a friendship bridge between Burma and Laos across the Mekong River, as well as discussing proposals for security cooperation.
After meeting in June in Kachin State’s Maijayang, ex Maj-Gen Aung Min, the key government negotiator and the country’s railways minister, and a KIO delegation led by Maj-Gen Samlut Gun Maw, agreed to aim toward more meaningful talks in the next round, including the presence of Soe Win.
But July went by without a scheduled meeting, with both sides deliberating a venue for the negotiations. The government proposed the town of Bhamo in southern Kachin State or the Sino-Burmese border town of Muse. However, the KIO suggested a third country host the next meeting.
At the Maijayang talks in June, Aung Min promised that government troops will withdraw from frontlines in KIO-controlled areas. However, the Kachins questioned how Aung Min or his delegation could influence the Tatmadaw (Burmese army) headed by Vice Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing.
Since the June meeting, hostilities between the sides have intensified in Kachin and Shan states.
“Withdrawing troops from posts at the frontlines is the most difficult proposition for the Tatmadaw as its key doctrine is to control land,” said Bo Htet Min, a former military official based in Thailand. He noted that the Burmese army elevated their frontline posts to infantry bases in Karen State in 1988.
Despite the absence of a ceasefire, Naypyidaw officials have recently attempted to persuade refugees and internally displaced persons to go back home by pressuring influential persons in the community, such as Christian missionaries and schoolteachers, and maintaining that the return home of refugees is an important step toward restoring peace and stability in the region.
Six international stakeholders including Norway, the UK and the EU granted millions dollars toward the peace process in Burma, following a visit to Norway in April by Aung Min.
There are many channels of brokers in the Kachin conflicts. According to Gun Maw of the KIO, even before holding an informal meeting with Aung Min, there are as many as 20 channels of communication between each side, cronies, INGO staffers and consultants.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch has estimated that 75,000 villagers in the Kachin conflict zone have been displaced since the 17-year ceasefire agreement between the regime and the Kachin rebels broke down on June 9, 2011.