MYITKYINA — Thousands of people in the Kachin capital Myitkyina provided a convoy of ethnic rebel leaders with a raucous welcome as they flooded the streets, crowded the streets and the leaders’ vehicles, while singing songs to the banging of loud drums.
The leaders and other officials, who were travelling in a convoy of about 60 vehicles from Laiza to Myitkyina to attend talks with a government peace negotiations team, were also greeted by villagers along the road and hundreds of enthusiastic local motorbike riders followed the motorcade for many miles.
The talks with government chief peace negotiator Aung Min are due to start in the Kachin capital on Monday and could prove to be historical meeting if the Burmese government delegation agrees to hold a political dialogue with ethnic armed groups. Such an agreement would pave the way for a nationwide ceasefire between the government and rebel groups, which have been in armed conflict for more than 60 years.
Ethnic leaders agreed in Laiza conference in recent days that they would support a government-proposed nationwide ceasefire agreement if Naypyidaw guarantees a comprehensive political dialogue involving all ethnic armed representatives early next year.
More than 100 representatives from 18 ethnic armed groups—including the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), which does not yet have a ceasefire agreement with the government—signed an agreement at the conference on Saturday. Only one Shan rebel group did not sign the agreement.
On the way to Myitkyina, Kachin ethnic villagers of all ages, some dressed in traditional Kachin dress, stood along the roads in order to cheer on ethnic leaders as they drove past; many sang songs, shouted and waved flags with the symbols of the Kachin people. Some chanted: “Laiza Agreement; be successful,” “Ethnic leaders; be healthy”, “KIA leaders; be healthy” and “Ethnic demands; be successful.”
Zaw Lot, an ethnic Kachin businessman in Myitkyina, said, “I was very surprised when I saw this [rally of supporters]. I have never seen such big rally before. If you see this, you can’t deny that the civilians support their ethnic leaders.”
“This time, all ethnic leaders have gotten involved [in peace talks]. So, I have big expectations this time. I think it [peace negotiations] will be successful this time. I support it,” said Zaw Lot.
Due to civil war, thousands of civilians in ethnic states in border territories have been displaced for years, some of them for decades. Ethnic armed groups have been waging wars with the government for autonomy since 1948, shortly after Burma gained independence.