Naypyidaw Promises Kachins Political Dialogue

By Saw Yan Naing 30 October 2012

The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) said it was promised political dialogue by a Burmese government delegation during talks at the Sino-Burmese border town of Ruili on Tuesday.

Led by KIO politician Sumlut Gam, the KIO did not broach matters relating to a ceasefire between the sides, but instead focused only on calling for a political solution to the ongoing conflict, and fixing a venue for the next round of negotiations, said sources in Ruili.

The government delegation, for its part, felt that the meeting was undermined by the Kachin rebels sending low-ranking representatives to the talks, the sources said.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, Sumlut Gam said, “War can break out at any time if we only sign a ceasefire without dealing with the political problems by political means—not military means.”

He said that President’s Office Minister Aung Min promised the KIO that his delegation would discuss items related to political dialogue in the near future. Aung Min also told KIO representatives that he will hold talks with the ethnic bloc United Nationalities Federal Council by December, according to Sumlut Gam.

“The government delegation promised there will be political dialogue,” he said. “And they said they wish to hold the next round of talks in Burma—perhaps in Bhamo or in Muse. The KIO can choose the venue.”

Sources who spoke to The Irrawaddy said that the KIO representatives sought to verify that political dialogue will be on the forthcoming agenda. The government delegation, on the other hand, urged the KIO to help maintain peace and security along the public highway between Kachin capital Myitkyina and the town of Putao in the far north of Kachin State.

The government delegation also asked the KIO to grant permission to the respective authorities so that work can be restarted on repairing the Taping hydropower dam on the banks of the Taping River in southern Kachin State. They also brought up the issue of the reduction of military forces in the northern region by both the Burmese army and the KIO’s military wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Meanwhile, sources close to both the KIO and the government delegation said that the latter was “somewhat displeased” that the Kachin rebels had dispatched such a low-ranking delegation to the Ruili meeting while Naypyidaw’s team included four ministers.

Sources at the Sino-Burma border said that the government delegation also included high-raking military officials. However, Lt-Gen Myint Soe, the commander of the Bureau of Special Operations (1), who oversees military operations in Kachin State, Mandalay and Sagaing Divisions, opted not to attend the meeting after learning that the KIO had sent what he considered a lowly delegation.

Myint Soe and a handful of other military officials decided not to attend the peace talks when they reached the border town of Muse and were told that Maj-Gen Sumlut Gun Maw, the vice-chief of staff of the KIA, and a few other Kachin military chiefs would not be present at the meeting.

KIO sources, however, maintained that Gun Maw was unable to attend the meeting as he is too busy overseeing military activities in Kachin State.

The KIO is the largest ethnic armed group that has not signed a ceasefire agreement with the new government. It has met with government peace delegations several times this year but without tangible results.

According to Hla Maung Shwe, a government peace broker, the Burmese government is now considering withdrawing some of its troops from KIO territories.

Sources close to the KIO said that the Kachin leadership wants talks to include not only ceasefire details but also political affairs, and that negotiations should include representatives of all ethnic armed groups.

Recently, the UNFC said that it will informally meet the Naypyidaw delegation, probably in Thailand during the first week of November.

The Irrawaddy reporter Nang Thiri Lwin also contributed to this article.