Plans to Resume Kachin Peace Talks Stall over Choice of Venue

By Saw Yan Naing 9 August 2012

The Burmese government and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) say they are ready to resume talks aimed at ending more than a year of fighting in northern Burma, but have yet to agree on a  place to meet.

“We are still trying to choose a suitable place for both sides,” said James Lum Dau, the KIO’s deputy chief of foreign affairs, speaking to The Irrawaddy on Thursday. “We have suggested meeting somewhere in our territory or in China, but they want to meet in an area under their control.”

The two sides have held a number of meetings since the start of the year, but have so far failed to make any real progress in efforts to end the conflict, which has displaced around 60,000 ethnic Kachin civilians.

Despite the delay in resuming talks, however, James Lum Dau said that the KIO and a delegation led by the government’s chief peace negotiator, Railways Minister Aung Min, have agreed in principle to resume a political dialogue.

The KIO said it will also seek to include the leadership of the United Nationalities Federal Council, an ethnic umbrella group currently chaired by the KIO, in the next round of talks. The aim of the group is to achieve a permanent political settlement for Burma’s ethnic minorities.

“It will only be a waste of time if all we talk about is a ceasefire. If the government really just wants the fighting to stop, all it has to do is withdraw its troops. Then a ceasefire would automatically come into effect,” said James Lum Dau.

“Even if we can’t reach a Panglong-style agreement, we will at least propose a federal system which grants us the right to govern our state,” he added.

Signed in 1947, the Panglong Agreement guaranteed Burma’s major ethnic groups the right to self-determination and autonomy, and even granted them the right to secede from the Union of Burma after a fixed period of time. It was later annulled after Gen Ne Win seized power in a military coup in 1962.

The KIO previously reached a ceasefire agreement with the government in 1994, but the truce broke down in June 2011 when fighting erupted between government troops and the KIO’s military wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Fighting in Kachin State and areas of northern Shan State where KIA troops hold control is continuing on a daily basis, according to KIO sources.

The government peace negotiation team led by Aung Min has reached ceasefire agreements with several major ethnic militias since late last year in Karen, Shan, Mon, Karenni and Chin states.

The KIO is the only major armed group that has not yet agreed to a ceasefire. The group has an estimated strength of just over 15,000 fighters.