Burma’s government will meet with Kachin rebel leaders and other ethnic groups in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on Feb. 20 to discuss a ceasefire in Kachin State and to hold a political dialogue with the groups, an ethnic leader and a peace broker said on Wednesday.
Government peace negotiators will visit Chiang Mai next week to meet with the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of Burma’s 11 ethnic militias, according to UNFC joint secretary Khun Okka.
The alliance is currently being chaired by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and Khun Okka said the government and the UNFC were scheduled to discuss the ongoing Kachin conflict, as well as the political demands of the ethnic groups.
Hla Maung Shwe, of the recently established Myanmar Peace Center, told The Irrawaddy that the government’s peace delegation led by the President Office’s Minister Aung Min would meet with the UNFC in Chiang Mai on Feb. 20.
“Aung Minh said that some higher military leaders from the government side will be included in the next meeting with the KIO,” said Hla Maung Shwe, who acts as a broker in the peace talks.
The KIO and the government have been involved in a bloody conflict in Kachin State since June 2011, when a 17-year-old truce broke down. Since December, the war has escalated as the government deployed heavy artillery and air strikes against the rebels.
The KIO’s headquarters in Laiza, a town on the Burma-China border, was surrounded by late January and on Feb. 4 both sides met in the Chinese city Ruili where they began ceasefire discussions. The meeting reopened communication channels but the sides failed to reach any agreements.
Many of Burma’s armed ethnic groups have fought decades-long rebellions against the government over their demands for political autonomy within a federal system and better protection of ethnic groups’ rights in the Constitution.
In the past, Naypyidaw frequently rejected these demands as it sought to tightly control Burma’s resource-rich ethnic regions. In recent years, however, the government has reached ceasefire agreement with 10 militias. It has pledged to resolve such differences with ethnic groups through political dialogue.
UNFC joint secretary Khun Okka said the alliance’s members had already flown out to the city in northern Thailand in order to discuss their approach in next week’s meeting with the government.
“We are discussing the ceasefire in Kachin State, the role of China [in a ceasefire agreement] and how to set up the political dialogue” with the government, he said by phone from Chiang Mai.
“We will discuss about the timeframe for a political dialogue with the government delegation,” said Khun Okka, who leads the Pa-O National Liberation Organization.
More than 30 representatives of ethnic minorities such as the Karen, Kachin, Karenni, Mon and Chin are present, he added.
Khun Okka said the chairman of Japan’s Nippon Foundation Yohei Sasakawa was also attending the current UNFC meeting to discuss the situation of civilians displaced by ethnic conflict in Burma.
The Nippon Foundation has taking a keen interest in resolving Burma’s ethnic tensions. It has agreed to donate US $3 million in emergency aid and to support education and health care development in ethnic regions.