MYITKYINA — Vijay Nambiar, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Burma, has participated twice as an observer to the ceasefire talks between the Burma government and the ethnic Kachin rebels, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).
Last week, Nambiar observed the three-day talks in Myitkyina, the Kachin State capital in northern Burma, on Oct. 8-10. It was the second time that the two sides met since May and the meeting produced an agreement, but not a ceasefire deal. Shortly after the talks ended, the UN envoy spoke with Irrawaddy reporter Saw Yan Naing about the peace prospects for Kachin State.
Question: What did you learn during this latest round of ceasefire talks?
Answer: Genuine progress has been made in terms of moving the process forward. I think that in the last few days, the negotiations took place in a genuine spirit of the cooperation and harmony between the two sides, even though they got differences in term of the perception of things. The agreement they signed meets many of the concerns that the two sides have had in relation to the start of the process of political dialogue, the de-escalation and also looks at the specific mechanisms, including the joint monitoring. …
But, what I have been most impressed is the spirit and the courage by both leaders and delegations in moving forward. There are, of course, many things that still need to be done. Even though they have an earlier agreement, there have been some skirmishes. But, they want to move forward to a genuine ceasefire.
And the agreement they have reached includes the KIO convening very soon a joint meeting of all ethnic groups [in Myitkyina] in order to be able to proceed forward with a nationwide ceasefire. That also, I think, represents such substantial progress. And I think that is the first stage of a political dialogue that would look at the larger picture of the inspiration of [Burma’s] ethnic groups toward federal power sharing and resource sharing.
Q: Even though there have been several rounds of ceasefire talks, more than 100,000 displaced civilians still can’t return home. What are your concerns about these people who have been displaced for more than two years?
A: That is another area where I think there has been a genuine effort to meet the concerns of both sides. They are looking at specific areas, such as the Bhamo-Myitkyina road [which remains closed], they have been discussing about reopening roads. And the technical groups, joint monitoring groups, will also have to cover resettlement [of displaced civilians]. And the fact that both sides expressed that they will take accounts of the personal views and desire of local [displaced] themselves about what they want to do for their own resettlement. That is very important.
Q: Based on your observations this week, what are the challenges ahead in the peace process?
A: I think challenges still remain. These processes are just beginning. Once the political dialogue starts there will be new challenges to face because I think the process of working out the framework for political dialogue will remain a substantial challenge. But, I see there is genuine willingness to move forward together. I think that is a good sign.
Q: Your home country, India, is a multi-ethnic country like Burma. It also faced problems with ethnic conflict. What experiences can you share?
A: There are some similar experiences from other countries that we can talk about. But, essentially, this [ethnic conflict] has to be resolved by people, by the ethnic groups themselves. Experiences of other countries are just kinds of reference points of what they have done. This is has to be done by the people themselves.
Q: What is the role of the United Nations in the national peace and reconciliation process in Burma?
A: We will continue to play a role in supporting both the government and the ethnic groups as they move forward in this process. The UN will get involved as a neutral party observer. We are willing to play what role they would like us to do.