MYITKYINA, Kachin State—Burma’s government and ethnic Kachin rebels signed a preliminary agreement on Thursday that would reduce military tensions in northern Burma and lead to further progress towards reaching a peace deal. The parties however, failed to reach an official ceasefire agreement.
On the third day of the negotiations in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina, a government negotiation team and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) signed a seven-point statement.
The sides agreed to “undertake efforts to achieve de-escalation and cessation of hostilities” and to “continue discussions on military matters related to repositioning of troops,” according to two points from a translation of the agreement.
Officials said the agreement—although not a ceasefire—marked an important step towards ending further clashes.
“Even though we cannot yet sign the ceasefire agreement, we are satisfied with the results that we have reached so far” said Lt-Gen Myint Soe, a high-ranking government army official who commands the Bureau of Special Operations-1, which oversees military operations in Kachin State.
“Whatever the Tatmadaw did in the past, we and the KIO are brothers. So this time, we are trying to reconcile with our KIO brothers. This is like a common quarrel between a husband and wife,” he said during a press conference.
“Tatmadaw never breaks the promise we make or our discipline. But there is still an uneasy situation at ground level,” Myint Soe added.
Gen Sumlut Gun Maw of the KIO’s military wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), said the agreement would help prevent an outbreak of clashes, but he added that it was not a ceasefire.
“We will try to avoid [military] engagement, but we can’t guarantee an end to the war,” he said. “We will reach out to the front line area for those tasks.”
Gun Maw said he was pleased with the preliminary agreement, but added, “We will have to discuss the details.”
Burma’s military and the Kachin rebels have been engaged fighting in northern Kachin State for decades. The ethnic conflict flared up in June 2011 after a long-standing ceasefire broke down. Fighting escalated between late 2012 and early February this year, after which the clashes largely stopped.
Other points in Thursday’s agreement include letting a KIO Technical Team stay in Myitkyina for further discussions with government officials. UN officials, Chinese diplomats and representatives of eight other ethnic militias would also be invited to attend the next round of ceasefire talks.
Two previous rounds of talks had been held in China in recent months, but this week’s talks between the Minister Aung Min’s peace negotiation team, Burma’s military and the KIO were the first to be held on Burmese soil. UN officials and representatives from ethnic militias also attended for the first time.
“This is quite a historic development; the agreements that have been reached here today. That the meeting is being held inside the country is one of several great agreements. And they are being able to lay a framework for sustained peace,” UN special envoy Vijay Nambia told The Irrawaddy in a reaction.
Lu Zhi, counselor from the Chinese Embassy in Burma, said, “I think it is very successful, good for mutual understanding and mutual trust. Finally they got better results… I am looking forward to the next round and hope for better, even better, results.”