By WAI MOE
Despite ongoing military offensives in Kachin State, delegations of the Burmese government and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) are scheduled to meet again for peace talks in the Chinese border town of Ruili on Jan. 18.
“The KIO’s peace-building committee and the government peace-building committee agreed to meet in Ruili on Jan 18,” said La Nan, the joint secretary of the KIO, who also acts as a spokesman for the organization. “Both sides are waiting for the Chinese authorities to make security arrangements for the meeting.”
The government delegation will include Aung Thaung, who is the former minister for industry-1 and currently a secretary of the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP); Thein Zaw, the former minister of telecommunications, posts and telegraphs and currently a USDP leader; Labor Minister Aung Kyi; and Minister of Cooperatives Ohn Myint, La Nan told The Irrawaddy on Monday.
At least least nine officials will join the KIO delegation, including central committee members, according to La Nan. He added, however, that the group's chairman, Lanyaw Zawng Hra, who headed a delegation that took part in peace talks in Ruili on Nov. 29, will not be join the delegation this time.
The talks in Ruili will come less than week after the government signed a ceasefire agreement with the Karen National Union (KNU), which began fighting Burma's central government shortly after the country achieved independence in 1948. It was the first time the KNU had ever agreed to a ceasefire.
The government and the KNU signed a five-point ceasefire agreement at the state level and agreed to discuss 11 other points at the union level, including guarantees of the human rights and safety of civilians, an end to forced labor and an end to arbitrary taxation and extortion, in the future.
However, the Burmese delegation that met with the KNU is different from one that will meet with the KIO. Railway Minister Aung Min, Industry Minister Soe Thein and Minister of Immigration and Population Khin Yi were at the meeting with the KNU in Pa-an, the Karen State capital, last week.
Another difference between the two sets of talks is that the negotiations in Ruili will take place amid an ongoing Burmese army offensive against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the armed wing of the KIO.
“On Sunday alone, there were three skirmishes between the KIA and government troops, and two day ago there were five skirmishes,” said La Nan. “At the same time, the government army is sending more reinforcements from Myitkyina and Bahmaw to KIA-controlled areas.”
Military operations in Kachin State have now extended even to the well-known jade mining town of Hpakant, where Kachin media agencies and human rights groups have reported that civilians have been killed by government troops.
KIO officials said they will raise human rights violations and the targeting of civilians when they meet the government delegation in Ruili in two days time. They said they will also reiterate their demand for political negotiations leading to a lasting solution to Burma's ethnic conflicts.
The group also raises human rights violations and the issue of refugees when it meets with foreign delegations. Some KIO officials recently met with Derek Mitchell, the US special envoy to Burma, in Thailand.
“The US envoy expressed his concern about conflicts in ethnic areas, saying this is an important issue in Burmese politics. It is also something that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has highlighted in her meetings with foreign delegations,” La Nan said.
The KIO official also said that the group welcomed expressions of concern about the Kachin situation by Min Ko Naing, another prominent pro-democracy leader who was released from prison on Friday.
“I am very concerned about achieving peace in ethnic areas because when I hear the news about the armed conflicts, particularly in Kachin State, it makes me very uncomfortable,” Min Ko Naing said, speaking to The Irrawaddy shortly after his release.“That's why we need peace across the country immediately. Then we can work toward building national reconciliation.”
In early December, Rangoon journals quoted Kachin State Chief Minister La John Ngan Hsai as saying that President Thein Sein had ordered government troops to halt military offensives in the state.
However, there has been no cessation of the conflict since then, raising questions about relations between the government and the army.