April 25, 2013

Kachin peace talks likely delayed till May

Apr 25, '13

The next round of peace talks between Burma's government and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) are not likely to take place until next month, according to Kachin sources familiar with the negotiation process.  

Originally the talks were supposed to be held before the end of April however due to a variety of factors most notably continued disagreement over the inclusion of third party observers the talks will take more time to arrange. 

Myitkyina is still likely to be the location for the next round of talks.  If they do indeed take place in the Kachin state capital it will be the first time that talks between the two sides have taken place in territory controlled by the central government since fighting resumed in Kachin state in June 2011.   Previous rounds of talks have taken place in the Chinese border town of Ruili, Mai Ja Yang the KIO's second largest town and in northern Thailand.  

Earlier this month a coalition of Kachin civil society groups issued an open letter complaining that Chinese government officials had pressured both the KIO and the Burmese government negotiators to avoid inviting western governments to observe the peace talks.  This claim was quickly denied by the Chinese embassy in Rangoon.  

It remains unclear if the next round of talks will bring about a significant change in the situation in Kachin and north western Shan state where troops from the KIO and the army continue to exchange fire on a regular basis. Despite the good will expressed by the Burmese government's chief negotiator Aung Min and his team of internationally trained advisers at the European Union funded Myanmar Peace Center, there has been little progress during the more than a dozen rounds of meetings that have taken place between the government and the leadership of the KIO.  

A major stumbling block between the two sides remains the KIO's call for political talks based on the historic Panglong agreement and the group's insistence on significant troop withdraws of government forces from the frontline.  

Signed by General Aung San and representatives from the Kachin, Shan and Chin communities in February 1947, the Panglong agreement promised these groups a fair amount of autonomy over their own affairs in exchange for their support for Burma’s independence. Aung San’s death just months later brought an end to the dream of Panglong, his successor U Nu never fully implemented the agreement in particular the promise of local autonomy.  

It remains unclear if international observers from organizations or foreign government agencies viewed as unaffiliated with the central government will be allowed to observe the talks as the KIO has previously requested.  So far staff from the Switzerland based Center for Humanitarian Dialogue have observed some of the talks as has Harn Yangwhe of the Euro Burma office.  

The KIO has reportedly requested that other observers from a variety of backgrounds including officials from western governments be allowed to attend future talks.  Chinese government officials who have also attended several of the talks in Ruili are widely believed to have put pressure on the KIO to reconsider this.  Suspicions that were not put to rest by the Chinese embassy's swift denial of the claims made in the joint statement issued by Kachin civil society groups blasting China's handling of the peace talks.

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