The Burmese government’s peace team is expected to hold a third round of talks with the ethnic rebel Kachin Independent Organization (KIO) later this month, according to sources close to the two sides.
Although a venue has yet to be agreed upon, it is believed that the talks will be held in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina, making this the first time that negotiations started earlier this year have been held inside Burma.
Two previous meetings, held on Feb. 4 and March 10, both took place in the Chinese border town of Ruili.
According to peace broker Hla Maung Shwe, the Burmese government’s chief peace negotiator, President’s Office Minister Aung Min, invited the KIO to meet before April 8.
However, the KIO says it will wait a few more days before deciding how to reply.
“We haven’t made any decision yet, but it will come in a couple of days,” KIO spokesperson La Nan told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. “We have to assess the situation. It also depends on the extent to which international observers will be allowed to participate in the talks.”
A later response will probably mean that the talks will be held in the last week of the month, following the Thingyan water festival in the second and third weeks, said Hla Maung Shwe.
The peace brokers say that government negotiators and their Kachin counterparts have been able to build some degree of mutual trust since the talks began following a fierce offensive launched by the Burmese government army against the KIO’s stronghold of Laiza at the end of last year.
To further improve trust, Hla Maung Shwe said that Aung Min had agreed to accept any venue for talks proposed by the KIO.
In addition to the two formal meetings that have so far taken place, the two sides have also held several informal talks, he added.
It was not clear what the agenda will be for the next round of talks, but high-ranking Burmese military officials are expected to be among those present. The KIO spokesperson also confirmed that representatives of the group’s military wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), will attend the next meeting.
Military tensions in Kachin State have diminished considerably since the talks began in February, but occasional clashes between the KIA and government troops were reported in several areas last month, including northern Shan State and near Pangwa, north of Laiza in Kachin State.
The KIO said that it has also been actively engaged in efforts to establish a political dialogue with Naypyidaw through the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an ethnic alliance group. The UNFC and government peace team are expected to meet later this month, after UNFC representatives return from a trip to Japan.