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Distrust remains in Myanmar’s push for peace

Lahkyen La Ja, general secretary of the Kachin Independence Organization, is interviewed by The Asahi Shimbun on July 25 in Bangkok. (Takeshi Fujitani)

Reconciliation talks have ground to a halt as Myanmar’s central government and ethnic militias try to overcome decades of distrust.
Ten militias have agreed a truce to stop fighting government forces, but there has been little progress on political dialogue. And the government has yet to enter negotiations with one group, the Kachin Independence Army. Its insurgency formally continues.
Myanmar’s President Thein Sein, who has promised democracy to replace half a century of military dictatorship, espouses reconciliation as the road toward that.
But accord still seems far off.
Myanmar’s Rail Transportation Minister Aung Min, who represents the government in talks, told The Asahi Shimbun in February of a three-stage strategy toward reconciliation.
The first step, he said, is to agree truces with the 11 insurgent ethnic groups. He estimated a deadline of three to four months for this.
Then, he explained, the government would open political dialogue with the militias and allow refugees to return. The final step would be to convene a national assembly toward lasting peace.
Aung Min said he was confident of the plan’s success.
But in July a leader of the Kachin Independence Army’s political wing told The Asahi Shimbun he has no intention of signing a truce.
Lahkyen La Ja, general secretary of the Kachin Independence Organization, said no deal can be agreed without a government road map toward a political solution to the conflict.
La Ja said the group has held three rounds of informal talks with government negotiators, the last in late June. The talks took place in parts of Thailand and Myanmar under the group’s control.
Aung Min was present. When he urged the group to accept a truce it demanded that the government withdraw its troops. The standoff remained as sharp as ever, La Ja said, and there was no agreement on dates and venues for formal talks.
He said the Kachin demand the same rights as the majority Burman ethnic group.
"All the government talks about is this cease-fire," La Ja said. "But we signed one in 1994. We cooperated with the government for 17 years. After that they started to fight against us, and armed clashes broke out in June last year. The fighting was started by government troops."
La Ja continued: "We want genuine political dialogue to solve the problem. How can we sign a cease-fire without guarantees? Trust-building has not begun yet."
Meanwhile, even the armed groups that have accepted cease-fires are not yet in political dialogue with the government.
The Karen National Union, which earlier this year agreed a truce ending a six-decade struggle for independence, plans to hold talks Aug. 28 with Aung Min and other government representatives.
But the areas of discussion are likely to be confined to codes of conduct related to the truce.
"Local people are, on the one hand, hopeful. They are happy about the political recognition of the armed groups' struggles for existence," said Khin Ohmar, a democracy activist and expert on Myanmar’s ethnic-minority forces.
"But there is another side to the story. Because the government army is now increasing, they are worried about security on the local level," she said.
There have, in fact, been sporadic clashes between government troops, pro-government militias, and armed ethnic militias since late July in the Kayin and Shan states. Reports say the fighting resulted in casualties and injuries.
Reconciliation with ethnic minorities is one of the pillars of President Thein Sein's reform agenda, alongside democratization and economic liberalization. On Aug. 4, he met representatives of ethnic minority-based political parties and called on them to cooperate in the reconciliation process, but he gave no specific proposals or timelines.
By TAKESHI FUJITANI/ Correspondent

Posted by BCJP on Friday, August 10, 2012. Filed under , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

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