MYITKYINA, Kachin State — The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) will likely join a nationwide ceasefire conference that the Burmese government plans to hold next month, and says it will organize a meeting with top leaders of other ethnic rebel groups before then.
The KIO and the government peace delegation met for closed-door talks on Tuesday morning in the Kachin State capital, Myitkyina. Following the talks, Aung Min, the minister leading the government delegation, said he expected the Kachin leaders to join the nationwide ceasefire conference in November along with representatives from other ethnic rebel groups.
He said the KIO, one of two major rebel groups that has not signed an individual ceasefire agreement, had not rejected the government’s invitation to the conference in Naypyidaw, but added that he did not expect the Kachin leaders to go so far as to sign a nationwide accord.
Later in the day, the KIO said it would host a meeting before the nationwide conference with top leaders of other ethnic armed groups. The meeting, likely at the end of this month, would be held in the town of Laiza, where the KIO has its headquarters.
Col Sai Lao Hseng, a spokesman for the Shan State Army-South (SSA-South), a rebel group in neighboring Shan State, told The Irrawaddy that the KIO’s deputy chief of staff proposed this idea of an ethnic alliance meeting to Aung Min during the closed-door talks.
“He [the KIO leader] said he wanted to host a meeting with all ethnic groups to discuss the nationwide ceasefire agreement,” the Shan spokesman said. “U Aung Min also said he agreed with the plan. He is willing to join the talk if he is invited.”
The Karen National Union (KNU) of Karen State plans to send representatives to this meeting in Laiza, said KNU general-secretary Kwe Htoo Win.
“It is important for ethnic groups to discuss our common interests and what we want to achieve with the nationwide ceasefire agreement, and what guarantees we want from political dialogue,” he said.
The KIO has been fighting on and off with the government army for decades, in a bid to achieve greater political autonomy and basic rights for the ethnic Kachin people, who, like other ethnic minorities in the country, have long seen rights abuses at the hands of government soldiers. Kachin leaders signed a ceasefire deal with the government in 1994, but that agreement broke down in 2011, leading to an escalation of fighting earlier this year. Clashes are continuing but have become much less frequent in recent months.
The KIA deputy chief of staff, Gen Sumlut Gun Maw, agrees with the government that fighting on the frontlines has declined following several meetings.
“Before, there were five clashes in a day, 150 clashes per month,” Aung Min said. “Now there are only seven clashes in a month.”
Amid ongoing peace talks this year, the KIO leaders say that given the existence of the 1994 deal, they see no need to sign another ceasefire agreement. The government peace delegation seems to understand this point.
“As they said they already have a ceasefire agreement, they can join the [nationwide ceasefire] meeting,” said Aung Min. “They asked us what points would be included in a nationwide ceasefire accord—they need to brief the public and their central committee. They don’t deny these points—they only demand what they want. So this is a positive sign, in my view.
“There would be no reason to demand anything if they were not considering attending the nationwide ceasefire meeting. We expect it [attendance], as they have made some demands.”
Col Zaw Taung of the KIO’s department for military strategic analysis said he could not confirm whether KIO representatives would join the nationwide conference in November. He said the issue required discussion and a decision by leaders of the KIO central committee in Laiza.
Lt-Gen Myint Soe, commander of a government bureau of special operations that oversees military operations in Kachin State, said the closed-door talks on Tuesday were productive.
“We discussed the details of mechanisms to ensure there is no more fighting in conflict zones,” he said. “We pointed out areas with a map and discussed in detail. It was a positive meeting.”
Tuesday was the second day of meetings between the KIO and the government peace delegation in Myitkyina. The two sides are discussing military matters as well as preparations to assist refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) who have been forced to flee their homes due to the fighting.
Ethnic representatives, including ethnic Wa rebels from the United Wa State Army (UWSA), are attending the meetings, along with the UN special adviser to Burma, Vijay Nambiar. Chinese officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing and the Chinese embassy in Rangoon are also in attendance.
The United Nations estimates that 100,000 people have been displaced by clashes in Kachin State and northern Shan State. More than half the IDP population are staying in camps in rebel-held territory, where the government has restricted access to international humanitarian aid.
As of June, only 10,000 IDPs in rebel-held territory had received international assistance, says the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). In August the government granted permission for the United Nations to carry out cross-line missions to rebel-held areas where about 25,000 IDPs were located.
In September, a team of UN agencies and international NGOs conducted four cross-line missions to assist IDPs in Laiza and the Majayang area, according to OCHA, which released a report on the team’s findings on Monday.
The team—which included the UN World Food Programme, the UN refugee agency, the UN agency for children’s rights, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), Médecins du Monde (MDM) and other INGOs—distributed humanitarian assistance to more than 22,000 people, including a one-month supply of food, as well as bed nets, sanitary kits, hygiene kits, educational materials, water purification tablets and medicines.
Significant needs were found in regard to nutrition, education, health care, shelter and access to adequate supplies of water, OCHA reported.
In Laiza and Majayang, rice is supplied regularly by local organizations but adequate amounts of pulses, cooking oil and salt have not been distributed, OCHA said, adding that medical clinics in IDP camps lacked adequate supplies, equipment and staff.
Additional reporting by Samantha Michaels in Rangoon.