The Struggle of the Kachin People in Myanmar
A tough journey towards political settlement
- Part 3 -

Puyam Nongdrei *

A protest rally being taken out by Kachin State immigrants in New Delhi in June 2012
A protest rally being taken out by Kachin State immigrants in New Delhi in June 2012 :: Pix - TSE

Peace Talks for Political Settlement

KIO which was established on February 5, 1961 signed the ceasefire agreement with Myanmar junta in February 1994 freezing the conflict without addressing its root causes. The underlying cause of tension erupted again since June 2011. After dozen of rounds of peace talks, a seven-point agreement was signed to pave way for political settlement.

The holding of election in Myanmar, release of Aung San Suu Kyi, lifting of sanctions, engagement with western powers and transformation of many ethnic armed groups into Border Guard Force and signing of ceasefire agreements with dozens of armed groups give the impression that political reform is taking shape towards a successful ending.

However, fighting between the KIO/KIA and Myanmar forces since June 2011 threatens to derail the ongoing peace and reconciliation process.

Following the eruption of armed clashes between Myanmar military and KIA, President Thein Sein called for peace on June 18, 2011. However, Tatmadaw's self-defense attacks on KIA camps continued unabated leading to use of air power targeting KIA stronghold areas along China-Myanmar border. There were hard negotiations along with intermittent fighting since June 2011.

China hosted peace talks meeting in Ruili on 29 November 2011 between the two parties and hosted another round in January 2012. Escalation of military offensive displaced thousands of Kachins forcing many to flee into Yunnan. By July, China became a target of international community for closing the border to Kachin refugees and sending them back despite strong denial from Chinese authorities.

The fighting intensified along the border with Myanmar government using air power to bombard the KIA strongholds in December 2012. Bombs were dropped into Chinese territory on 30 December 2012 compelling China to send strong representation to Myanmar. There was report of Myanmar aircrafts intruding into Chinese territory which was dismissed as baseless by Chinese authorities. Both Chinese PLA soldiers and air force tightened their surveillance along the border. China called on parties involved in the armed conflict to realize ceasefire as another bomb fell into Chinese territory on 17 January 2013.

There were signs that China was growing increasingly concerned over the unrest in Kachin. On January 10, 2013, Kachins protested in Nanbang city in Yunnan against the ongoing military offensive and called for immediate ceasefire. They came out to protest on the day of Manau festival threatening to cross the border in solidarity with their brothers and sisters suffering in Myanmar.

The flow of refugees, dropping of bombs into Chinese territory and protest march by Kachins in Nanbang city forced China to send its special envoy Fu Ying to Myanmar. Following the meeting, Chinese Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that Thein and Fu Ying had exchanged views on deepening Sino-Myanmar strategic partnership and have agreed to protect peace and stability in the border areas. Fu Ying met with Thein on 19 January 2013.

Myanmar's Union Central Peacemaking Work Committee invited KIO to resume peace talks which was hailed by UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon. Before this, there had been 11 rounds of talks, the last one was held on October 30, 2012 without success. Following this, the two conflicting parties resumed peace talks on 4 February 2013 in Ruili. Besides KIO and Myanmar peace negotiating team led by Aung Min, the meeting involved representatives of Kayin National Union, Restoration Council of Shan State Army and Luo Zhaohui of Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Another round of peace talks was held in Chiang Mai in Thailand on 20 February involving the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC). UNFC refused to take part in the Myitkyina talks, though several members attended the talks held in Kachin's state capital. It has expressed mistrust of the military leaders and called for western observers at the talks.

Both UNFC and KIO have called for the participation of western observers as they are skeptical about China's intentions taking into account its deep engagement with Myanmar through trade and economic assistance. Gao Mingbo, spokesman of the Chinese Embassy in Myanmar said that China made efforts to pave way for holding talks in Myanmar. Earlier, some groups have blamed China for objecting participation of the US and UK observers in the peace talks.

Another round of peace talks took place on 4 February 2013 in Ruili and it was followed by another round on 8 March. China's first special envoy for Asian Affairs, Wang Yingfan was given the task to engage with Myanmar as first priority. He met with delegates from the two sides. However, the next round supposed to be held on 6 April was cancelled due to some issues relating to China's reluctance to allow western observers. Chinese Embassy in Myanmar dismissed the allegation in a statement released on 7 April.

The latest round of peace talk was held in Myitkyina, the capital city of Kachin state controlled by Myanmar forces, in May 2013. The three days talk was attended by Kachin state parliament members, observers of eight ethnic armed groups, Chinese Embassy Counselor Lu Zhi and Spokesman Gao Mingbo as well as special envoy of the UN secretary-general Vijay Nambiar. The two sides signed a seven-point peace agreement.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon welcomed the seven-point agreement and expressed continued support of the UN for a comprehensive political dialogue to bring lasting peace in Myanmar. A total of 14 rounds of talks have been held during the nearly two-years long fighting between the KIO and Myanmar forces. This time, the Kachins are insisting on political settlement, not just a cease-fire.

The seven point peace agreement covers continued holding of political talks, de-escalation or cessation of hostilities, formation of a joint monitoring committee, resettlement of internally displaced people, continued discussion on repositioning of troops and stationing of KIO technical team in Myitkyina in the course of the peace process. In order to win the hearts of the people and show sincerity, President Thein Sein had assured of releasing political prisoners.

At present, there is a serious attempt made to bring peace and tranquility in Myanmar. The Myanmar Peace Centre was established as a part of the agreement with the Norway-led Peace Support Donor Group for assisting the Union Peacemaking Central Committee and the Peacemaking Work Committee. It acts as the coordinating centre of all the donor governments, INGOs, ethnic groups, CSOs and a platform to meet and negotiate. Efforts are being made by NGOs, government officials and government-backed bodies such as Switzerland-based Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Norwegian government-sponsored 'Myanmar Peace Support Initiative (MPSI)', UN secretary-general's special representative to Myanmar.

Other participants include China, Kachin parliamentary representatives, members of other ethnic armed groups, the Union National Federal Council (UNFC), Euro Burma Office, Nippon Foundation (Japan). In addition, International Peace Support Group (IPSG) constituting INGOs such as the International Crisis Group (ICG), Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Euro-Burma Office and Fairness International are doing their jobs well.

According to the report "Deciphering Myanmar's Peace Process: A Reference Guide (2013)" published by the Burma News International (BNI), the ongoing conflict in Kachin and northern Shan states threatens the ceasefires signed with other armed ethnic groups as it reduces confidence in Naypyitaw's sincerity in solving ethnic problems.

The DKBA-5 has threatened to nullify its ceasefire if the government does not stop its offensive against the KIA on 4 January 2013. Similarly, UNFC members such as KNU, KNPP, SSA-N, CNF, NMSP and PNLO issued a statement blaming the government for the Kachin conflict and called for immediate cessation of offensive on January 1, 2013.

It was followed by another similar statement from SSPP/SSA along with UWSA and NDAA threatening that they would revise their cease fire agreements if the conflict continues. A breakdown of the ceasefire and resumption of hostilities with the armed groups is something that Myanmar cannot dream of at present. Such a situation will bring the army into the forefront declaring a state of emergency.

Another interesting facet of Myanmar peace process is the involvement of prominent businessmen as peace brokers. One such group is 'Peace Talk Creation Group' financing the talks between KIO and Myanmar officials. It is led by Yup Zau Hkaung of the Jadeland Company and includes other prominent Kachin businessmen. Another such peace broker is the Ko Ko Maung of the Dawei Princess Company which facilitated talks between Karen National Union (KNU) and Myanmar authorities.

The KIO has stated that a durable peace needs to guarantee fundamental rights and privileges of all the nationalities. It is strongly against defining ceasefire as peace. The seven point agreement was signed ending the about two years- long hostility to pave way for political dialogue. At the same time, KIO is engaging in negotiations and discussions with Committee for Emergence of Federal Union (CEFU) and United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), two forums constituting many ethnic armed groups. Most importantly, successful implementation of the peace agreement would determine the future course of ethnic conflict in Myanmar and success of its national reconciliation process.

Napa Napuki Mingkheilelna Lengtapa Naralni Kaokanu-O
Hakki Laining Pambi Houhallu, Achumba Lambida Chathou-O
He Meeoipa Sing-O
Nangki Nangki Leipakki Loulee Impham Chetna Touchou-O
Yumdangbana Keinaba Lou Mapu Yongna Taanba Thokhanphade II

Ningsingjaba:- Epa Epusingna thambiramba eikhoigi lou,
ingkhol amadi yumphamnachingba eral-ethum kayabu meetopsingna munkhidanaba
amadi matam pumbada eikhoigi phurupki chatna-lonchatki leeklam,
enat amasung laining leechat kayabu manghandana ngak-sennanaba taakpiramba loushing warol kayani II
Pumnamaksing asibu thijin-humjinduna neinaba khangminnabagi mahutta khangna nattraga
khangsinnadana thouwoidabana eikhoigi kangkhul malemdagi mutkhinabagi khwaidagi laiba pambeini II


* Puyam Nongdrei wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at nongdreijing(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on June 30, 2013.

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