MYITKYINA, Kachin State—After an unprecedented round of peace talks between ethnic Kachin rebels and the national government here in Burma’s northernmost state, Kachin leaders say they remain wary of Naypyidaw and will only agree to a ceasefire in the presence of international observers from the United States and the United Kingdom.
Hundreds of Kachin leaders on Wednesday met in the state capital of Myitkyina with the UN special advisor on Burma, who was allowed to attend the peace negotiations for the first time on Tuesday, and spoke to him openly about their continuing mistrust of Burma’s quasi-civilian government.
The leaders warmly welcomed UN envoy Vijay Nambia and thanked him for participating in the negotiations, but said they worried that the Burmans—Burma’s majority ethnic group which dominates the government—had been “bound to tell lies” for decades.
Ang Phan Ja Ra, an 81-year-old former singer, said the Kachin people had suffered for about half a century under an oppressive Burmese regime.
“How can we trust them, when, despite talks between the KIO [Kachin Independence Organization] and the government, more troops have been deployed?” she said.
Labang Gam Aung, secretary of the Kachin Consultative Committee, which organized the meeting on Wednesday, said he also welcomed the participation of Chinese observers in the peace talks.
“We welcome international observers and their attention to our affairs,” he said.
Prior rounds of negotiations this year have been held over the border in China, with Beijing prohibiting the participation of other international observers. The talks on Tuesday were the first to take place inside Burma with the UN envoy in attendance.
Gam Aung said the Kachin people wanted “genuine peace, ethnic equality and a federal system.”
“We hope for the best,” he said.
The UN’s Nambia said the discussion with Kachin leaders was productive. “I think it’s been a good meeting,” he told reporters after the event. “There were frustrations, as well as expectations and hopes, which have been expressed.”
“I think there is hope,” the UN envoy added. “But people feel everywhere. I think it’s necessary that those views come out and are openly expressed.”
He told the Kachin public: “You are moving, you must move and you will move for the future.”
Meanwhile, leaders of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) discussed military affairs with a commander from the government army, although no details of were revealed.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy after the meeting, KIA deputy chief Gen Gum Maw said a press conference would be held on Thursday.
Both sides said they were satisfied with the meeting. Gen Gum Maw and Gen Zaw Taung represented the KIA, while Lt-Gen Myint Soe represented the government army.
Lt-Gen Myint Soe said the group discussed troop deployments as well as the ongoing clashes between the government army and other ethnic armed groups which have already signed ceasefires.
Shortly after these meetings, several hundreds of Kachin activists and community leaders met the KIO peace delegation led by Gen Sumlut Gun Maw, who addressed the crowd in their Kachin language.
The KIA general said a ceasefire agreement could only be signed if international observers from the United Kingdom and the United States were present at the talks, saying that trust between the KIO and the government was destroyed when their 17-year ceasefire broke down in 2011.
“It is the first time that KIO leaders held a meeting with us,” a female participant told The Irrawaddy. “I’m so happy I could shed a tear of joy.”