By WAI MOE
Peace in Kachin State could take three years to bring to fruition despite the Burmese government’s recent policy of engaging in talks with ethnic armed groups, claims Naypyidaw’s chief negotiator.
Government Minister Aung Thaung, who is head of the peace delegation, told leaders of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) during negotiations in the Chinese border town of Ruili on Wednesday and Thursday that a lasting truce could not be achieved quickly.
Aung Thaung’s plan includes three steps— a ceasefire and reposition of both sides' troops, development of the region and all-inclusive talks for finding a political resolution to the crisis.
This means that peace with the KIO—the only major armed group still fighting the government since a 17-year ceasefire agreement broke down on June 9—would only be achieved after Burma becomes chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in 2014 and just ahead of the 2015 general elections.
Throughout seven months of fresh armed conflict in northern Burma, the KIO and local human rights groups have reported that around 50,000 Kachin villagers fled their home to escape the fighting and associated human rights abuses.
“Although the government’s military operations in Kachin State have now decreased, the armed conflicts here have continued,” KIO Joint-Secretary La Nan told The Irrawaddy on Monday.
“Even during talks between the KIO and the government delegation led by U Aung Thaung, government troops launched offensives on two of our bases,” he added.
La Nan said that this assault on Thursday jeopardized the peace process between the KIO and government.
“We complained about the attacks to U Aung Thaung and his delegation during talks on Thursday. He [Aung Thaung] told us that he would raise the issue when he was back in Naypyidaw,” La Nan said.
The KIO official revealed that they hope to hold another session of talks with the government delegation in February although the precise date has not yet been set.
Ending all hostilities in Burma’s ethnic areas alongside the release of political prisoners and free and fair in elections are the three criteria cited by the international community to achieve political development in the Southeast Asian nation.
The United States has also called for the ending of ethnic armed conflicts before it can lift sanctions on Burma.
Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi brought up the ongoing Kachin conflict during her recent interview with the Washington Post and said it was a key issue for US officials to achieve a policy shift.
“There should be an end to all hostilities in the ethnic areas. There has been a ceasefire with the KNU [Karen National Union] but not yet with the KIA [Kachin Independence Army—the KIO's military wing]. That is a big problem for the country,” Suu Kyi said.
“The situation in the Kachin [State] is a major problem. If we are to have a genuinely peaceful nation, we will have to resolve these problems politically, not militarily,” she added.
Although Suu Kyi and ethnic groups have called for the resolution of conflicts politically, observers believe Aung Thaung's recent statement that peace might take three years has thrown Naypyidaw's commitment to resolving the conflict into doubt.