KIA Willing to Hold Talks: 88 Generation Group

By The Irrawaddy 11 January 2013

RANGOON — The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) is willing to hold conditional peace talks with the Burmese government, the 88 Generation Students group said on Thursday, quoting a KIA general.

Earlier this month, four members of the group visited the war-torn area in northern Burma where fighting between the Burmese army and the KIA has been escalating since the end of last year, and  met the KIA’s vice chief of staff, Gen Gum Maw, at the group’s headquarters in Laiza.

“Gen Gum Maw said that if the Burmese government slows down its offensive on the KIA and makes a solemn promise to achieve peace through political discussion, the Kachin armed group is willing to join peace talks with the government,” said Tun Myint Aung, who traveled to the area to assess the ongoing situation there.

Fighting resumed in Kachin State in June 2011 after the KIA refused to abandon a strategic base near a hydropower plant that is a joint venture with a Chinese company.

In December, the government ordered the KIA to make way for the delivery of supplies to a Burmese army base at Lajayang, close to Laiza, by Christmas Day. The Kachin rejected the ultimatum for fear of a government attack on its own outpost. The government army subsequently launched airstrikes on the group, in the worst escalation of fighting since the conflict began.

The Kachin are one of many ethnic minorities in Burma seeking greater autonomy from the central government. Despite striking peace deals with other ethnic armed groups, the government of President Thein Sein has yet to reach any agreement to end the war in Kachin State.

The conflict has raised doubts about the reform efforts of Thein Sein’s administration, which came to power in 2011 after almost five decades of military rule. It has also earned condemnation both within Burma and in the international community.

In Rangoon, several local civil society groups held a meeting yesterday to call for the creation of a demilitarized zone in Kachin State for the safety of civilians affected by the fighting. They also said that a person or group qualified to mediate in the conflict should be appointed to help end the fighting.

The United States has also described the use of air power in Kachin State as extremely troubling. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland urged the government and the Kachin rebel group to cease their conflict and begin a real dialogue for peace.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the government and the KIA to work toward political reconciliation.