Burma’s President Thein Sein wants the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) to hold its next round of peace talks with the government in Naypyidaw as efforts to agree on a location in the northern region or in China have stalled, said President’s Office Minister Aung Min.
Naypyidaw’s chief peace negotiator Aung Min spoke exclusively to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. He said that he had proposed to the Kachin leadership that they travel to the Burmese capital for the next round of negotiations, but that the KIO had yet to respond.
“I believe that if they come to Naypyidaw, we can take our bilateral relationship from what might be called a ‘Minus 4’ position to perhaps a ‘Minus 1’ or ‘Minus 2’,” he said.
He said that it is difficult to agree on a safe venue in Kachin State, and that the government’s top representative, Gen. Soe Win, would not go to Ruili, across the Chinese border, for talks.
Deputy commander-in-chief of the Burmese army, Soe Win, has headed the government delegation in recent talks with the KIO regarding the withdrawal of Burmese troops from front-line positions in Kachin and Shan states where they have about 40 bases.
Aung Min said he earlier proposed that the next round of talks be held in Kachin State’s Bhamo Township, while the KIO maintained that it wanted the venue to be in Loijay, a township closer to KIO-controlled area. Another suggested location, he said, was Muse, a Burmese town bordering China, or in a third country.
Aung Min said that he had met KIO leaders three times, and that he believed he had been successful in establishing a working dialog with the rebels.
“I have already solved many political and economic issues with the Kachins,” he said. “However, we have not solved the military problem. I personally do not have power within the army. This part has to be dealt with by the military leaders from both sides.”
Aung Min has been involved in fruitful negotiations with no less than 11 ethnic armed groups; however, attempts at reconciling differences with the KIO have proved elusive.
He referred again to his Plus and Minus yardstick, saying that a ceasefire agreement can be achieved when both sides reach a “Plus 1” level. He said he rued that relations had deteriorated to a “Minus 4” level with the KIO, but noted that “the situation with the Kachins was already broken before I took over the position as chief peace negotiator.”
Aung Min rejected allegations reported in the media that the Burmese army was refusing, on occasion, to take orders from the president with regard to ceasing hostilities in KIO areas.
“The situation in Kachin State is very complicated,” he said. “That is why we believe it needs to be solved on a step-by-step basis.”
Fighting in Kachin State broke out last June, ending a 17-year-old ceasefire. The conflict has continued since then despite repeated attempts at negotiations. The war has forced some 65,000 people from their homes, some of whom have crossed the border into China.