Ethnic Leaders Propose Talks in Kachin Capital

By Lawi Weng 23 December 2014

RANGOON — Ethnic peace negotiators have requested a meeting between the government and ethnic armed groups in Burma’s troubled north, where an artillery attack on a rebel training facility in late November brought peace talks to a standstill.

Speaking to reporters on the tail end of grossly under-attended negotiations lasting two days in Rangoon, representatives of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) said the meeting is meant to focus on resolving the bitterness caused by the attack, which left 23 rebel cadets dead near Laiza, headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

“To solve the problem of the incident in Laiza, we proposed holding the meeting in [Kachin State capital] Myitkyina, but we don’t know yet when it will be held,” said Kwe Htoo Win, a deputy leader of the NCCT.

The official said the meeting was first requested by Kachin leadership, and that the proposal is now under consideration by the Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC), a team of government negotiators that liaises with the NCCT on the long course toward an eventual nationwide peace accord.

The KIA and the NCCT requested attendance by representatives of the three major ethnic groups in the country’s north currently affected by conflict with the Burma Army: Kachin, Palaung and Shan. Top-level Kachin and Palaung leadership notably abstained from this week’s two-day meeting.

Kwe Htoo Win said the UPWC will present the proposal to its central committee and they will “inform us about when it will be.”

Hla Maung Shwe, a senior government advisor at the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), which hosted this week’s discussions and plays a facilitative role in the peace process, kept his optimism about Burma’s stagnating peace process. Ethnic and government negotiators will continue to work in tandem and address the situation in Laiza, he said, particularly toward the goal of preventing another similar incident.

He said the current government would like to reach a ceasefire agreement with the country’s many ethnic armed groups by mid-February, 2015, though several earlier deadlines have already come and gone to little astonishment.

The next round of negotiations is set to be held in January, when the nuts and bolts of the nationwide ceasefire draft will again be up for debate. Hla Maung Shwe said that—despite setbacks caused by the recent attack—the two sides are very near to an agreement and need only adjust three of the document’s seven provisions. He declined to provide any further detail about the remaining points of contention.

“We don’t have much more to talk about,” he said. “We have only three more points to discuss with our top leaders.”

The sticking points in the peace process have been fairly consistent, however, mostly centered on issues of federalism, creation of a federal armed forces and establishing a code of conduct. This week’s talks prioritized discussions related to the attack in Laiza and the allowance of peace monitors.

The NCCT has recommended that the European Union carry out peace monitoring activities, though the government has only agreed to let China and the United Nations serve as observers at negotiations.

Members of the NCCT said that they do not want to proceed with nationwide talks until after the government agrees to meet with ethnic stakeholders in Myitkyina to discuss the shelling of Laiza, which is believed to have been the most deadly singular attack by the Burma Army on rebel forces since the peace process began in 2011.