US Diplomat, Parliamentarians Observe Govt-Karenni Rebel Peace Talks

By Saw Yan Naing 19 June 2013

Observers including an official from the US Embassy and members of Parliament were present on Wednesday at union-level peace talks between the government and Karenni rebels, where the two sides discussed military affairs.

The talks took place in Loikaw, the capital of Karenni State, and were attended by senior government officials including Minister Aung Min of the President’s Office, Energy Minister Than Htay and Karenni State’s Chief Minister Khin Maung Oo, as well as members of the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC).

High-ranking military officials including Maj-Gen Aung Than Htut, the chief of the Bureau of Special Operations-2, and Col Kyaw Soe Win from the Burmese armed forces’ office of the commander-in-chief were also present at the meeting.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday from Loikaw, Hla Maung Shwe, a leading member of the MPC, said government officials and Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) leaders “talked about military affairs in a private meeting. We were not allowed to attend that. But it was a good meeting overall.”

According to Hla Maung Shwe, American diplomat Erin Webster-Main and 10 religious and community leaders were also present at the meeting, at the invitation of the KNPP. Several members of Parliament were also invited by the government delegation.

“They also discussed the formation of a peace monitoring committee and its duties,” Hla Maung Shwe said. “Opening more liaison offices was also discussed in the meeting as usual.”

Other sources said the government’s peace delegation and leaders of the KNPP also discussed health, education and development projects, including land mine clearance in Karenni State.

Business projects, drug eradication and humanitarian aid to internally displaced persons (IDPs) are also believed to be on the agenda for the ongoing talks.

“Today, we agreed to cooperate with the government to form a committee to provide assistance to the IDPs,” said KNPP Secretary 2 Shwe Myo Thant.

Other leaders in attendance from the ethnic Karenni rebel KNPP included deputy chairman Khun Oo Reh, military chief Gen Bee Htoo and Secretary 1 Aung San Myint.

Wednesday marked the third official meeting between the government and KNPP leaders. Naypyidaw’s peace delegation and the KNPP held their first official talks in March 2012, when the two sides signed a ceasefire agreement. They met again in June 2012.

Hla Maung Shwe said he was optimistic that the peace talks would bear further fruit and expected that the two parties would sign additional agreements in the following days. They will continue their discussion on Thursday and conclude talks on Friday.

The latest round of talks come as the government in recent weeks has voiced its desire to hold a nationwide political dialogue with Burma’s many rebel ethnic groups.

“The government delegation has proposed a nationwide ceasefire agreement. We agreed with it in principle, but we think the government must amend some of its work plans,” Shwe Myo Thant said.