Kachin rebel leaders and a Burmese government delegation led by President’s Office Minister Aung Min met at the Jin Cheng Hotel in Ruili, China, on Monday for a fresh round of peace talks aimed at ending a bitter war in Burma’s north.
The meeting, which was hosted by Chinese authorities, was attended on the Kachin side by Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) peace negotiator Sumlut Gam and Gen Sumlut Gun Maw, the vice chief of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), who is regarded as a key military decision maker.
Also in attendance were Chinese officials, peace brokers such as Hla Maung Shwe of the Rangoon-based NGO Myanmar Egress, and senior leaders of the Karen National Union (KNU), including Chairman Mutu Say Poe and General Secretary Kwe Htoo Win, according to Aung Kyaw Zaw, a well-informed source in Ruili who is close to the KIO.
This is the first time the two sides have met since a KIO peace team led by Sumlut Gam held talks with a government delegation in Ruili on Oct. 30 of last year. Sources close to the government said that Naypyidaw was unhappy at that time because the KIO did not send senior representatives for the talks.
After that meeting, the government army stepped up its offensive against the KIA, using fighter jets, helicopter gunships, bombs and intense artillery barrages to seize rebel outposts around Laiza, a town on the Chinese border that serves as the KIO headquarters.
The current meeting comes after the government army captured several strategic guerrilla-held positions last month in the hills surrounding Laiza.
The area has been relatively quiet since the government army took control of Hkaya Bhum, the highest hill in the area, on Jan. 26, although KIA officers say that government troops still sporadically shell rebel posts.
Khon Ja, an activist with the Kachin Peace Network, said the army fired four artillery shells at one rebel post a few kilometers west of Laiza on Sunday. A day earlier, they attacked a rebel post at Lawa Yang, just to the southwest.
Government forces are “trying to harass us,” said Sgt Brang Shawng, who is deployed at Lawa Yang. “They are trying to draw us into a fight, but we are under strict orders not to fire back.”
He said army troops on a hilltop overlooking Lawa Yang attacked his position with rocket-propelled grenades, mortar rounds and bursts of gunfire twice on Saturday.
Referring to Monday’s talks, Brang Shawng said: “We hope there will be a truce so peace will come, but nobody thinks this is going to end soon.”
Since the conflict resumed in June 2011 after a 17-year ceasefire, the two sides have held at least 10 rounds of talks to try to end it.
Monday’s meeting was confirmed by a KIA officer and a civilian official working with the government’s negotiation team. The officials declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject.
The Kachin, like Burma’s other ethnic minorities, have long sought greater autonomy from the central government. They are the only major ethnic rebel group that has not reached a truce with President Thein Sein’s administration, which has been praised by world powers for making political and economic strides toward democratic rule over the last two years.