RANGOON — As a government peace delegation and Kachin rebel leaders prepare for another round of ceasefire talks next week, tensions between troops on the ground remain high, according to a Kachin activist, who said that the sides recently clashed and that the Burma Army has moved into areas near displaced villagers’ camps.
Khon Ja, an activist with the Kachin Peace Network, a Rangoon-based aid organization that assists displaced Kachin civilians, said “a severe clash” occurred near Mung Ding Pa village in Mansi Township, south of the regional town of Bhamo, on Monday evening.
She said 432 students were studying in Mung Ding Pa village, almost half of whom belong to displaced ethnic Kachin families.
According to sources working with displaced villagers in Kawng Ja and Namlimpa camps, located on the Burma-China border, the Burma Army has moved four battalions into areas nearby, to the distress of the families who fled to the camps to seek refuge from the conflict.
Khon Ja told The Irrawaddy that recent clashes and troop movements were affecting about 2,000 displaced ethnic Kachin villagers, as well as local villagers.
She said the military tensions could affect the upcoming ceasefire talks between the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and Minister Aung Min’s government peace negotiations team on Oct. 8-10 in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina.
“The fighting breaks out ahead of the peace talks. So, it seems that the government can’t influence the military,” Khon Ja said.
She said that Burma Army had not ended encroachments into rebel-held territories, even though it has signed ceasefire agreements, adding that for this reason a ceasefire deal might offer few significant benefits to the KIO.
“Fighting even broke out in the areas controlled by ethnic armed groups, such as the Shan rebels, who have already signed ceasefire agreements with the government,” she said. “So, it doesn’t really make a difference whether they sign a ceasefire or not—that might be the reason that the KIO hasn’t signed a ceasefire yet.”
The Kachin rebels have been engaged in occasionally heavy fighting in northern Burma’s mountainous northern Kachin State, after a long-standing ceasefire with the government broke down in June 2011.
Fighting escalated from December 2012 until February 2013, when government forced tried to encircle the KIO headquarters in Laiza, a town located on the Burma-China border.
Since then, there have been few serious clashes and the KIO leaders have met with government peace negotiators several times. The meetings have, however, produced no ceasefire agreements and there have been frequent reports of skirmishes between the army and the rebels.
The KIO have said they would not sign any ceasefire deal until Naypyidaw agrees to a political dialogue with all ethnic rebel groups, which are demanding greater political autonomy through the creation of a federal union in Burma. The government has been loath to give into this demand.
Naypyidaw, nonetheless, wants to soon hold a nationwide peace conference involving all or most ethnic groups, as it is keen to show the international community that is dealing with Burma’s decades-old ethnic conflicts.
Currently, the government has ceasefire deals with most of the major ethnic rebel groups except the KIO. Some smaller groups, such as the Palang rebels (Ta’ang National Liberation Army), have also not signed an agreement.
The ongoing peace talks are further complicated by different alliances among the rebels.
The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), comprising eight groups, recently held unsuccessful talks with Minister Aung Min in Chaing Mai, northern Thailand.
Following this meeting, Aung Min reportedly said he would no longer negotiate with the UNFC, but instead would try to meet with each individual rebel group in order to persuade them to join the national peace conference in November.
UNFC Secretary Khun Okkar told The Irrawaddy that he believed that Aung Min’s words had been misinterpreted by some media outlets, adding that the UNFC would probably invited to attend the peace conference as “observers.”
“We believe that U Aung Min will try to convince the KIO to sign the ceasefire in the upcoming meeting [next week]. And that he plans to meet with the Palaung rebels,” Khun Okkar said.
“If it succeeds as planned, it will be easy [to organize a nationwide ceasefire],” he added.
Additional reporting by Lawi Weng.