UN Special Envoy, Chinese Observers Attend Kachin Peace Talks

By Nyein Nyein & Saw Yan Naing 28 May 2013

The UN’s special envoy to Burma, Vijay Nambiar, attended peace talks on Tuesday between the Burmese government and Kachin rebels in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, the first time the UN high official has participated in such negotiations.

Reporters from The Irrawaddy in Myitkyina reported that Chinese observers as well as representatives from eight of Burma’s armed ethnic groups, including the Wa, Karen, Shan, Karenni and Mon, were also present for Tuesday’s meeting. All ethnic and foreign observers who attended the meeting were invited by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).

It is the first time the KIO agreed to attend peace talks in the government-controlled region of Myitkyina, with the previous two rounds of talks held in neighboring China.

“We come to hold talks here [Myitkyina] not because there is peace in our state, but because it is necessary to come and hold such a meeting,” said Gen Sumlut Gun Maw, the vice-chief of staff of the KIO’s military wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). “We come here because we need to discuss political matters.”

In previous rounds of peace talks, the KIO had pushed for the presence of a “monitoring team” of Western and UN representatives to observe the negotiations. However, China strongly rejected the proposal, fearing such observers would interfere with the peace process. According to sources close to the Burma government’s peace delegation, China even intervened in the wording of previous statements released jointly by the two parties.

According to representatives of both the KIO and the government peace delegation, military affairs will also top the agenda during this week’s negotiations, part of which includes a plan to open liaison offices in Kachin State where on-and-off hostilities have broken out in the past, in order to ease military tensions between the two parties.

The KIO will also hold a meeting with Kachin civilians in Myitkyina on Wednesday. They expect to conclude the talks on Thursday.

Aung Min, who is the government’s key peace negotiator, said he was also trying to arrange an ethnic conference in Naypyidaw in July, where he would invite all ethnic representatives to participate in the gathering.

A high-ranking government army official, Lt-Gen Myint Soe, who commands the Bureau of Special Operations-1 overseeing military operations in Kachin State, also attended the Kachin peace talks, where he delivered opening remarks.

Other ethnic representatives including the Karen National Union (KNU) were also present as observers. Civilian representatives such as Kachin State’s Chief Minister La John Ngan Hsai, the KIO’s education chief Sumlut Gam and other local Kachin observers were also presented for the talks.

KIO leaders arrived in Myitkyina on Monday, greeted by thousands of Kachin supporters who took to the streets to welcome the KIO delegation’s convoy.

Many supporters waved KIO flags while others chanted an ethnic Kachin national anthem and played Kachin traditional instruments. The KIO have held several rounds of peace talks with the government peace team in an attempt to reforge a 17-year-old ceasefire agreement that was broken two years ago. The two sides have yet to produce tangible results.

The KIO, the nation’s second largest armed ethnic rebel group with an estimated 10,000 fighters, signed a ceasefire agreement with the former Burmese military regime in 1994, but the agreement broke down in June 2011 when fighting erupted between the government army and KIA soldiers.