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Peace in sight as Kachin ceasefire holds
Publication Date : 06-02-2013
A ceasefire is holding in Myanmar's northern Kachin state, with both sides returning to the table for talks and reaching an agreement to defuse military tension, open lines of communication and meet again before the end of this month.
The talks on Monday were held across the border in Ruili, China. Luo Zhaohui, director-general of the Department of Asian Affairs in China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was present.
China - worried about stability in Kachin state and tensions among its own Kachin minority on the border - played a key role in nudging both sides back to talks that had stalled in the same town in October last year.
The conflict erupted after an almost 20-year ceasefire in June 2011. It has left some 100,000 people displaced and many - possibly hundreds - killed and wounded as government troops and the Ka-chin Independence Army (KIA) fought. Each side has traded accusations of provocation and attacks.
Myanmar's army, the Tatmadaw, has gained ground in recent weeks and was in a position to attack the KIA's headquarters in Laiza.
A limited unilateral ceasefire by the Myanmar government last month broke down, but the KIA offered a ceasefire last Friday. Since then, apart from some sporadic gunfire, no major incidents have been reported.
On Monday, Myanmar state television reported that a joint statement produced after seven hours of talks said both sides had also agreed to hold a political dialogue and establish a monitoring system for the ceasefire.
The political dialogue, as opposed to just ceasefire talks, had been a longstanding demand of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO). But below the surface lies a complicated contest for control of the rich natural resource spoils of the state: gold, jade, water and energy.
KIA commanders were present at the Ruili talks. The Tatmadaw however did not appear.
Sources said that after a bad experience in Ruili last October, when a top KIA commander failed to show up, the Tatmadaw did not want to risk losing face.
But observers from Shan State, as well as the chief of the Karen National Union (KNU), Mutu Say Poe, were present at the Ruili talks. The KNU is one of many armed ethnic minorities that have reached peace agreements with the Myanmar government.
In the case of the KNU, the agreement overcame decades of deep mistrust. The presence of Mutu Say Poe at the Kachin talks was therefore significant, said analysts.
"Peace processes are difficult, especially with many groups," said Aung Naing Oo, who works on the dialogue process at the Myanmar Peace Centre in Yangon. The centre plays a mediating role in close coordination with Minister in the President's Office U Aung Min, who is President Thein Sein's chief peace negotiator.
"I think the ethnic minorities are willing to give peace a chance," he said. "Both sides (the government and the KIO) understand the difficulties of the road ahead - and peace alone is not enough. But this is a promising start."
The talks that were prodded to life by China offered the KIA a way out of a precarious position on the ground, and gave the Myanmar government a way out of the glare of international publicity and concern that was hurting the credibility of the President.
Another round of talks will be held, together with more observers, later this month, the joint statement said.