No end in sight to Myanmar conflict: mediator

Agence France-Presse
The fighting has tempered optimism about widely praised political reforms by President Thein Sein

YANGON, Myanmar – A year after Myanmar’s president ordered a halt to military offensives against ethnic minority rebels, fighting rages unabated in the northern state of Kachin as peace talks flounder, a mediator said on Tuesday, December 18. 

“Fighting between the KIO (Kachin Independence Organization) and the Myanmar military has been happening every day in recent weeks,” said Yup Zaw Hkaung, a local businessman and peace negotiator between the rebels and the government.

“Both sides say they are defending themselves,” he told AFP, adding that he had met US Ambassador to Myanmar Derek Mitchell and two officials from Washington on December 17 to discuss the conflict.

“People are losing their homes and land as they have to flee the fighting,” Yup Zaw Hkaung said, calling for mediation by a third party such as the United Nations.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced since June 2011 when a 17-year ceasefire between the government and Kachin rebels collapsed.

The fighting, along with sectarian violence in the western state of Rakhine, has tempered optimism about widely praised political reforms by President Thein Sein as the country emerges from decades of military rule.

Several rounds of talks aimed at resolving the conflict in the country’s far north have shown little tangible progress. The Kachin rebels are calling for greater political rights and an end to alleged human rights abuses by the army.

“The KIO said it’s impossible to have a meeting about the peace process at the moment although the dialogue can be continued later,” Yup Zaw Hkaung said.

A member of the KIO’s armed wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), said the rebels had come under attack by military helicopters near their base of Laiza close to the Chinese border, although it was not possible to verify the claim.

He said both sides agreed on the need for another round of talks after the most recent meeting in October, but no date or place had yet been decided. There was no immediate comment from the authorities.

“The government side doesn’t have a real commitment,” the KIA member added. “We ask for political negotiations, but they don’t mention political dialogue. They just want a ceasefire. So it is a huge problem to find a solution.”

Civil war has gripped parts of Myanmar since independence in 1948. The country’s reformist government has agreed ceasefires with several other ethnic rebel groups since coming to power last year.

The UN recently appealed to Myanmar to stop blocking aid to tens of thousands of displaced people in rebel-held territory in Kachin. –