Peace talks start between Myanmar and rebels
BANGKOK — China hosted peace talks between the Myanmar government and ethnic Kachin rebels Monday, as outside pressure grew on both sides to end the intense fighting of recent weeks.
The one-day meeting ended without a firm commitment to stop the clashes, which have left at least several hundred soldiers dead and displaced tens of thousands of civilians in the northernmost reaches of Myanmar, near the Chinese border. But the talks were notable for China’s prominent role in getting both sides to the negotiating table.
“The Chinese asked us to come to the meeting,” said Awng Jet, a member of the Kachin delegation. “They told us that U Aung Min would be there and said we should be there, too.”
Aung Min was the head of the Myanmar government’s delegation.
China is increasingly concerned about the fighting along its southern border. Shells have landed in its territory at least twice, refugees have come across the border and commerce has been interrupted — northern Myanmar is rich in jade and timber and is the site of many Chinese hydroelectric projects. A statement released after the talks by the Kachin rebels, who have lost some strategic positions in recent weeks, was noncommittal but appeared to show a willingness for further negotiations.
“We discussed opening lines of communication, reducing military tensions, and inviting observers and organizations that can participate as witnesses at another meeting,” the statement said. Previous negotiations with Kachin rebels foundered, and a cease-fire announced last month by the Myanmar government never went into effect.
China confirmed Monday that it was providing “amenities for the peace talks,” which are being held in Ruili, a city along the border with Myanmar, also known as Burma.
“China is willing to continue playing a constructive role in the peace talks between the two sides,” said a spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying, at a daily news media briefing in Beijing. The Kachin, whose many tribes live in the mountains of northern Myanmar, have a long history of autonomy from the lowland Burmese majority and are the only remaining major armed ethnic group that has not signed a peace deal with the government of President Thein Sein.
A successful outcome of the peace talks would bolster domestic and international confidence in Thein Sein’s reconciliation efforts, one of the central initiatives of his government. Even so, it would be only the start of a broader political dialogue between Myanmar’s central government and a dozen or so ethnic groups that are calling for a more decentralized system.