LAIZA, Burma — The leadership of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), Burma's last major armed ethnic group still engaged in armed conflict with the central government, say they want a formal ‘political dialogue’ to begin with Burma's retired General Thein Sein's government and will not take part in "ceasefire talks".
Speaking at public meeting at the KIO's Laiza headquarters on January 27, the Chief of Staff of the KIO’s Kachin Independence Army (KIA) Major General Gunhtang Gam Shawng reiterated his group's demand that Burma's government take the Kachin people's political aspirations seriously.
Gam Shawng said that the KIO's 17 year-long ceasefire with Burma's government, which ended last year, had failed to resolve many of the key the issues that lie at the heart of the KIO's 50 year struggle for greater Kachin autonomy. Gam Shawng added that the lack of a political dialogue during the ceasefire period was a great loss to the KIO, both politically and military and harmed the entire Kachin population overall.
Senior representatives from both the KIO and the Burmese government met in China’s southwestern Yunnan province last for talks last November and again two weeks ago, however KIO officials say that no agreement to even begin formal political talks was even reached at either of these meetings.
U Aung Thaung, Burma's former Industry minister no 1, a retired general considered close to Than Shwe and the head of the government's negotiations team was quoted in Burmese state media on Saturday stating that a government delegation will meet KIO again in mid-February for more talks. The remarks were made after his negotiating team reached a tentative ceasefire with representatives of the Shan State Army North (SSA North) in the Shan state capital of Taunggyi.
Since Burma's armed forces launched an offensive against the KIO in June of last year, the KIO has repeated their wish to begin talks based on a 1947 agreement reached with between General Aung San and representatives of the Kachin, Shan and Chin communities. The Panglong agreement signed and brokered by Aung San Suu Kyi's father gave political rights to Burma's non-Burman ethnic nationalities, including the right to local self-government in ethnic populated "Frontier Areas".
The agreement also stated that Burma’s central government “will not operate in respect of the Frontier Areas in any manner which would deprive any portion of these areas of the autonomy which it now enjoys in internal administration. Full autonomy in internal administration for the Frontier Areas is accepted in principle”.
While the Panglong agreement was a key development that led to Burma's independence, after Aung San's assassination in July 1947, his successor Prime Minister U Nu refused to implement many of the key points promised at Panglong.
The KIO's creation in October 1960, is widely seen as a reaction to Prime Minister U Nu's failure to live up to the Panglong principles. After U Nu was overthrown in 1962 relations Kachin relations with the central government did not improve and the Kachin insurgency which began in 1961 continued for decades. Although the KIO took part in peace talks with the Ne Win regime in 1963, 1972 and 1980-81, none of these negotiations achieved a lasting peace.
Armed conflict between the Burmese government and the KIO in northern Shan and Kachin state have forced more than 70,000 refugees to flee their homes. Reports from the field indicate that the KIO has inflicted heavy losses on the Burmese army with repeated guerrilla strikes on troop convoys and military positions. Government troops have frequently responded to these attacks by striking back at civilian targets, summarily executing unarmed civilians and raping Kachin women, according to eyewitnesses living in the conflict zone.