Kachin Ceasefire Talks Postponed Because of China, NGOs Claim

By Lawi Weng 8 April 2013

RANGOON—The postponement of ceasefire talks between the Burmese government and Kachin rebels on Friday has led to complaints from Kachin civil society groups, which claim that the talks were cancelled because China had objected to the presence of Western observers.

The Chinese Embassy in Rangoon has denied that it caused the postponement of the talks.

A government peace team was scheduled to meet with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina on Friday, but the event was cancelled a few days earlier.

Hla Maung Shwe, a peace broker from the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center, said on Monday that the KIO had asked for a postponement.

“From our side, we are ready to hold the talks. But, they [the KIO] asked to postpone and this is why we agreed with them,” he said, adding that the negotiations would take place soon after the Burmese Water Festival, which will end on April 15.

However, a group of 13 Kachin non-governmental organizations alleged that the event was cancelled at the behest of China, which they said had threatened to withdraw support for the ceasefire talks because UN, US and UK officials were due to attend.

The groups said in a joint statement that chief government negotiator Aung Min had agreed to a request by the KIO, made on March 29, to let Chinese and Western observers attend the talks at a venue in Myitkyina.

Hla Maung Shwe, of the Myanmar Peace Center, also told The Irrawaddy last month that Western observers would attend future ceasefire talks.

Two previous rounds of talks were held on Feb. 4 and March 8 in the Chinese border town Ruili, but no formal ceasefire agreement was reached. Chinese observers were the only third-party participants at these talks.

“China disagreed with letting the UN, US and UK participate in this [April 6] meeting,” said Mar Khar, executive director of the Kachin Legal Aid Network, whose organization helps internally displaced civilians in Kachin State.

His organization and the Kachin Peace Network, the Kachin Lawyers Group and the Kachin Women’s Peace Network were among the groups that issued the joint statement.

“KIO leaders told me that they don’t want to say bad things about China, so they had to postpone. And that’s why they say that their representatives could not arrive on time,” he told The Irrawaddy by phone on Monday.

The Chinese Embassy however, denied that China had objected to presence of Western observers. In a post on its Facebook page on Sunday the embassy said it regrets the report which “lack a factual basis.”

“As the close neighbor and truly friend of Myanmar, China fully respects the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Myanmar and support Myanmar government in its efforts to maintain national unity and ethnic harmony,” the embassy said.

Mar Khar said the presence of Western observers could help expedite the ceasefire talks, as Western countries and the Burmese government are in the process of improving their mutual relations.

“It is sad to see China want to control our sovereignty even though this is the affairs of Burma, and not China,” he added.

On Sunday, Burmese President Thein Sein wrapped up a three-day visit to China during which he met with his new Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

According to Chinese state media, the leaders discussed the Kachin conflict and Xi told Thein Sein that China was willing to “continue to play a constructive role” in solving the ethnic conflict taking place on the Burma-China border. Thein Sein reportedly assured Xi that his government would advance the peace process.

The government has been fighting ethnic Kachin rebels in northern Burma since June 2011 and from December to early February this year the fighting escalated. China has been concerned that the conflict could spill over into its territory and it has strengthened its security presence along the border.