Can Burma make a comprehensive peace deal with ethnic Kachin?
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Can Burma make a comprehensive peace deal with ethnic Kachin?

Burma’s Government and Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) signed a preparatory agreement on 30 May to downsize military concerns in Kachin state and northern Shan state. Many analysts deem this preliminary agreement may lead to extra progress towards accomplishing a diplomatic finale. But, it looks like uncertain.

However, armed-forces loyal to Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) clashed numerous times with the Burma Army over the past week in northern Shan state, quoting a KIO source the Kacin News Group said. It was the first recorded clashes since both sides met for peace talks in Kachin state capital of Myitkyina at the end of May this year.

On 10 June, conflict broke out between KIO Mungshawa Hpyen Hpung (MHH) civilian militia ‘section 5’ and government infantry battalion 125 close to Hpai Kawng village in Pangsai (Kyukok) region. The government battalion was supported by the Kutkai based militia troop commanded by Hkun Myant from the ruling USDP party. Hkun Myant runs his own militia for drug trafficking which is booming in Shan state. Two government soldiers found dead at the end of the fighting. A few clashes occurred throughout last week, according to a KIO official.

Kachin armed forces received strict orders not to strike first, said one KIO official who spoke to the Kachin News Group (KNG) on condition of anonymity due to restrictions in place on speaking to the media. Despite the KIO’s restraints, clashes occurred after government military units entered KIO controlled areas without word of warning, the anonymous official said.

During the latest three-day talks (28-30 May) in Myitkyina, the government peacemaking team and the KIO reached a seven-point preliminary agreement pledging both sides would take necessary steps towards reducing tensions and establishing a troop monitoring mechanism to prevent unnecessary clashes like these. Despite the goodwill gestures displayed in Myitkyina’s peace talks and later reported to the media by Aung Min, head of government peace negotiator, warfare hasn’t been ceased. As a result, a proper end of hostilities still seems far from realization.  

In the last three-day talks, the government’s peace delegation was led by Union Minister Aung Min and Lt-Gen. Myint Soe who is head of the Bureau of Special Operation-1 that watch over military operations in Kachin State. The KIO delegation was led by Brig-Gen Sumlut Gun Maw, the Deputy Chief-of-Staff of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

It was remarkable that Vijay Nambiar, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special adviser on Burma, was also present as an observer during the three-day talks between the KIO and the Burmese government. Representatives from China and other ethnic observers from United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) were also in attendance. Even though the KIO wanted to invite observers from the US and British governments, they were not in attendance. Their participation in the talks is reported to have been vetoed by the Chinese government, KNG said.

The central committee of Kachin Independence Organization released a public statement on June 12, 2013 reiterate the seven-point agreement signed between KIO and Burmese government delegation at Myitkyina’s Ma-nau compound on May 30. The statement expresses appreciation for all parties involved during the meeting and to welcoming crowd for their supports. Thousands of Myitkyina and Waing Maw residents lined up waving Kachin national flag to welcome KIO delegation on May 27, the Kachinland News said.

The KIO’s statement said the seven-point agreement was signed hoping that it would lead towards sustainable political conclusion and long-term peace. KIO again said in the statement that political discussions will halt long running civil-war and equal rights will guarantee all ethnic nationalities in Burma to live in peace and harmony, according to the Kachinland News.

As both sides had agreed on paper to set up a ‘Joint Monitoring Committee’ to trim down military tension, discussions on the safety of return and resettlement for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and refugees would continue as a priority in the upcoming talks, said the statement. Yet, the agreement appeared to be a preparatory step toward a truce rather than a step forward. The KIO maintains on a political solution, not just a ceasefire.

Ahead of the 30-May talks, the Kachin National Consultative Assembly (KNCA) issued a press statement on 22 May concerning the conflict in Kachin state. The Assembly demands four main points in the statement – Equal ethnic rights, justice and peace; Self-rule over our traditional territories; Full rights of self-determination and autonomy; Establishment of a genuine Federal Union.

On the other hand, President Thein Sein government said that it looks forward to achieve an all-inclusive peace agreement with every ethnic group in the near future. However, the KIO also has been under pressure from the Kachin general public not to bargain beyond their preferred demands with the government.