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Peace negotiations resumed between the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and the government’s Union Peace-making Work Committee (UPWC) in Kachin State capital Myitkyina on Tuesday.
The conference concluded with the drafting of a five-point statement, declaring a bilateral commitment to establish a joint peace-keeping commission, and vowing that both sides will continue to openly address the issues of recent conflict and the role of responsible media.
As requested by leadership of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the armed wing of the KIO, the meeting was attended by several observers including Mariann Hagen from the office of the UN Secretary-general’s Special Advisor on Burma, China’s Southeast Asia Special Envoy Wang Yingfan, and 39 representatives of Burma’s ethnic and political groups.
The state-level peace talks, separate from recent meetings geared towards a nationwide ceasefire, were requested by the KIA in response to intermittent conflict in Kachin and northern Shan states that has displaced thousands of civilians and left at least 22 soldiers dead since early April.
Many of the refugees were already internally displaced persons (IDPs), forced to flee their homes in one of several bouts of fighting since a 17-year ceasefire between the two sides broke down in June 2011. Hundreds are said to be flocking back and forth between severely under-resourced temporary camps, while many others made a run for the border with China.
State media reported on Thursday that the resettlement of displaced persons is a priority in the process of securing a lasting peace in Kachin State. The New Light of Myanmar cited Union minister and vice-chairman of the UPWC, Aung Min, emphasising the urgency of reopening villages and roads used by Kachin and Shan people who have been displaced.
Tuesday’s talks primarily aimed to prepare the two sides “to promptly settle issues if hostilities arise,” said Kwe Htoo Win, secretary of the Karen National Union, “which we see as a positive sign for the nationwide ceasefire effort.” Kwe Htoo Win was among the ethnic representatives selected to observe the negotiations.
Following the meeting, the UN Special Advisor on Burma announced that the UN “welcomes the constructive dialogue… particularly the decision to establish a joint Conflict Resolution Committee”.
While the two sides are still unprepared to pen a state-level peace pact, observers mostly agreed that the talks are a step in the right direction, as Burma aims to achieve an historic nationwide peace deal later this year following decades of crippling civil war.