Kachin Leaders Meet President, Burma Army in Naypyidaw Visit
By Lawi Weng 16 March 2015
RANGOON — Leaders of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) met with President Thein Sein and army officers in Naypyidaw on Monday in what was the rebel group’s first ceasefire meeting with the government in Burma’s capital.
Hla Maung Shwe, a senior government advisor at the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), said in Facebook post that Thein Sein met with leaders of the KIA and its political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization, at his “farmhouse,” adding that the Kachin rebels would meet with senior Burma Army officers on Monday afternoon.
Nyo Ohn Myint, another MPC advisor, said discussions had not focused on military matters in Kachin State, but on efforts to achieve a nationwide ceasefire between the government and the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), an alliance of 16 ethnic armed groups of which the KIA is an important member.
Thein Sein had stressed the importance of achieving a nationwide ceasefire, according to Nyo Ohn Myint, who quoted the president as telling the KIA: “We are staying in one country and [within] one borderline. We could fight, but we could also make peace.
“When one [armed] force is lost, that’s a loss [of human resources] for the country. We should all work together to make peace for the country.”
The Kachin delegation made a stopover in Naypyidaw while on their way to Rangoon, where they will observe a meeting between the NCCT and the government ceasefire team of Minister Aung Min on Tuesday.
The KIA/KIO delegation was led by KIO general secretary Hla Ja and KIA Deputy Commander-in-Chief Gen. Gun Maw. The rebels have been fighting the army in northern Burma’s Kachin State since mid-2011 and lack a bilateral ceasefire.
Fighting in the region quieted down in early 2013, but tensions remain high and about 100,000 civilians remain displaced. The government’s peace negotiation team has met the NCCT seven times since ceasefire talks began in mid-2013. The negotiations hit a deadlock in August last year when differences over key issues, such as federal autonomy for ethnic regions, could not be bridged.
The NCCT has not met with the government since and tensions in northern Burma have steadily increased. On Nov. 19, the army’s surprise shelling of a KIA training school killed 23 cadets of various ethnic groups. The KIA has demanded an explanation from the government but the issue remains unaddressed. Because of this, the KIA has reduced its status at the nationwide ceasefire meeting to that of observer.
MPC advisor Nyo Ohn Myint said the incident had not been broached during the meeting with the president. KIA/KIO representatives could not immediately be reached for comment on Monday.
On Feb. 9, full-scale fighting erupted between the Kokang rebels of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Burma Army, causing tens of thousands of civilians in northern Burma to flee and dozens of casualties.
NCCT leader Nai Hong Sar said the ongoing fighting would be raised in the meeting with Aung Min. The MNDAA is a member of the NCCT, but the government does not recognize it as an armed group that participates in the ceasefire process.
“Tension are rising high [in the Kokang Special Region] in northern Shan between the ethnic armed forces and the Burmese Army. There is a lot of fighting there. We need to talk about this in order to reduce fighting. Or, if we let it go on like this, the problem might even get worse,” he told The Irrawaddy.
“We hope that after the talks we could get some understanding and could reduce the fighting,” Nai Hong Sar said.
The MNDAA has been supported by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), which is also a NCCT member, while the government has alleged that the KIA, Shan State Army-North and United Wa State Army are also supporting the Kokang rebels.
The allegations threaten to destabilize the complex situation in northern Burma along the border with China, where the powerful Wa rebels have had a long-standing ceasefire with Naypyidaw.
Correction: This article was corrected on March 19, 2015, to reflect that the MNDAA is a NCCT member. Previously, the article mistated that the MNDAA is not a NCCT member.