News / Asia

'Breakthrough' Peace Plan for Burma's Kachin

Burmese government negotiators meet with representatives of the Kachin Independence Organization during their third day of cease fire talks in Myitkyina, Kachin State,  May 30, 2013.
Burmese government negotiators meet with representatives of the Kachin Independence Organization during their third day of cease fire talks in Myitkyina, Kachin State, May 30, 2013.
Daniel Schearf
A tentative peace agreement between Burma's government and Kachin rebels has been hailed as a breakthrough after recent intense fighting along the border with China.  The pact is one of the last to be reached with armed ethnic groups, raising hopes of a nation-wide peace.  But trust is still lacking and some ethnic groups want Britain and the United States involved in future negotiations to guarantee a lasting deal.  

The peace deal marked the first time Kachin rebels met Burma's government and military in government-held territory.

After three days of meetings in Myitkyina, the Kachin state capital, the two sides agreed to work at a cease-fire and repositioning troops to prevent further bloodshed.

They also agreed the rebels' political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization, would base a team of negotiators in Myitkyina for further technical discussions.

Min Zaw Oo, the director of cease-fire negotiations and implementation at the Myanmar Peace Center, attended the talks.  He says, most significantly, Burmese authorities agreed to a political process beyond a cease-fire, a key demand of the KIO.

"Cease-fire agreements in the past do not include political settlement or not even a political discussions.  But, this time the government already proclaimed that this discussion doesn't stop short at cease-fire agreement and that will lead to a political dialogue, toward a political settlement," said Min Zaw Oo.

The two sides also agreed to continue relief, rehabilitation, and resettlement efforts for internally displaced people in Kachin.

Over 100,000 Kachin villagers were displaced since a 17-year cease-fire was broken in June 2011.  Each side blames the other for starting the fighting.

Min Zaw Oo was speaking Friday by phone from a relief camp just outside of Myitkyina.  He says all the displaced people his group talked to have high hopes the agreement can lead to a lasting peace so they can go home.

"A lot of people believe that both sides have reached a point that we can call a breakthrough, especially because this is the first time they can meet in front of representatives, including the community leaders in Kachin state," he said.

The Kachin Independence Army, the KIO's military wing, is the last major rebel group to agree to a preliminary peace deal.

Since taking office from a military government in 2011, President Thein Sein signed agreements to end fighting with numerous ethnic armies, though sporadic clashes still break out on occasion.

The KIO is to hold one-on-one talks with Burmeses negotiators ahead of broader negotiations with other rebel groups for a nationwide cease-fire.

But despite the peace pact with the Kachin, lack of trust is still a major obstacle.  

The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) is a coalition of 11 armed ethnic groups, including the KIO.  

The UNFC met in February with Burmese negotiators in Thailand but refused to take part in the Myitkyina talks, though several of its members attended.  

UNFC joint general secretary Hkhun Okker says the group feels Burma's military leaders still cannot be trusted.

"Now is only fourth or fifth time for cease-fire called by U Thein Sein government.  Before we have General Khin Nyunt called cease-fire.  Before, we have General Ne Win call cease-fire.  Many time we have [calls for cease-fire].  But, all the agreements are later never honored by the other side," said Okker.

Hkun Okker agrees the Myitkyina peace deal is a positive sign.  But he says the government needs to enforce a nationwide cease-fire, declare a general amnesty for rebel leaders, and allow Western observers at peace talks.

Min Zaw Oo says the negotiation was aided for the first time by the presence of a United Nations representative, special rapporteur Vijay Nambiar.

"His participation definitely helps build up confidence among parties and also among Kachin public that the talk is not just superficial, that it's genuine and that aims to move to a broader political settlement and lasting peace," he said.

The KIO had originally insisted the negotiations also include observers from Britain and the United States.  

Hkun Okker says the ethnic groups want Western powers present to act as a guarantee and to balance the influence of China, which was represented at this week's talks.  

"You know, U.N. is very flexible and sometimes rather weak to implement in some parts.  At the same time, China is very very pro government of Burma.  They have big national interests inside Burma.  So, we cannot say they are neutral," he said.

The cease-fire was broken in Kachin by fighting near Chinese-financed dam projects.  

Critics say China's extraction-oriented investments in the region have fomented tensions as both sides seek to secure areas rich in natural resources.

Beijing is keen to prevent unrest and refugee flows spilling across its border.  

Burmese air strikes near the border in December were widely condemned internationally and led to protests just inside China.

China hosted several previous rounds of peace talks between the KIO and Burmese authorities.

A spokesman for China's embassy in Burma, Gao Mingbo, attended this latest round and spoke to VOA by phone from Myitkyina shortly after the agreement.  He says efforts by the Chinese over the past few months paved the way for the negotiations in Burma, also known as Myanmar.

"This issue concerns the border security of China.  So, we want to see a direct, or face-to-face talks, between the Burma government and the Kachin side.  And, I think that helps to build or to strengthen the military trust between the two sides.  And, also, that is essential for eventual peace agreement," said Gao.

Burmese media say China objected to Western nations participating in the Kachin negotiations and future talks that would include other rebel groups.  

Gao declined to say whether that is true. He referred to language in the agreement, which says the parties must agree if they wish to invite additional observers in consultation with each other.

The U.S. Embassy in Rangoon issued a statement Friday welcoming the agreement as constructive and encouraging.  

It also expressed deep concern about the safety and well-being of displaced civilians in Kachin and urged all sides to ensure unhindered humanitarian access to those in need.

You May Like

Video Egyptian Journalists Call for Freedom of Press

Despite release of al-Jazeera journalists and others, Egyptian Journalist Syndicate says some remain imprisoned More

Turkey Survey Indicates Traditional Distrusts, Shift to the West

Comprehensive public opinion survey also found a large majority of those interviewed distrust all countries other than country’s neighbor, Azerbaijan More

Pakistan Court Upholds Death Sentence in Blasphemy Killing

Highest court upholds sentence of Mumtaz Qadri convicted of 2011 killing a provincial governor for criticizing country’s controversial blasphemy law More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making a Minti
October 07, 2015 4:17 AM
While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video Self-Driving Cars Getting Closer

We are at the dawn of the robotic car age and should start getting used to seeing self-driving cars, at least on highways. Car and truck manufacturers are now running a tight race to see who will be the first to hit the street, while some taxicab companies are already planning to upgrade their fleets. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Clinton Seeks to Boost Image Before Upcoming Debate

The five announced Democratic party presidential contenders meet in their first debate next Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada. Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton continues to lead the Democratic field, but she is getting a stronger-than-expected challenge from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

Video Music Brings Generations Together

When musicians over the age of 50 headline a rock concert, you expect to see baby boomer fans in the audience. Boomer rock stars have boomer fans. Millennial rock stars have millennial fans. But this isn’t always the case. Take the Lockn’ Music festival which took place in mid-September in rural Arrington, Virginia. Here, Jacquelyn de Phillips discovered two generations of people who are considered quite different in the outside world, spending 4 days together in music-loving harmony.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video South Carolina Reels Under Worst-ever Flooding

South Carolina is reeling from the worst flooding in recorded history that forced residents from their homes and left thousands without drinking water and electricity. Parts of the state, including the capital, Columbia, received about 60 centimeters of rain in just a couple of days. Authorities warn that the end of rain does not mean the end of danger, as it will take days for the water to recede. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs