Myanmar ethnic groups to hold negotiations with government

Featured South East Asia - January 23rd, 2013
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A coalition of Myanmar’s ethnic groups has agreed to hold negotiations with the government on putting an end to the conflict in the northern state of Kachin.

The United Nationalities Federal Council is set to hold talks abroad with the government’s Peace Committee, led by Minister Aung Minh, by mid-February, said UNFC spokesman Khun Okker.

“The upcoming meeting will focus on the Kachin situation because of the serious fighting there,” Khun Okker, chairman of the Pa-O National Liberation Organisation, told AFP. “The first meeting is likely to be held in Thailand,” he said.

The federation, which represents 11 ethnic militias in Myanmar, plans to discuss several issues with the government, such as establishing peace in Kachin State and the amendment of Myanmar’s military-drafted 2008 Constitution, The Irrawaddy newspaper reports.

The Kachin Independence Army on Monday said in a letter to the government that it would only hold ceasefire talks through the UNFC.

Naing Han Tha, a prominent member of the federation, said the UNFC preferred that meetings with the government would be held in a third country to ensure the safety of its representatives.

“Minister Aung Ming invited us to hold talks in Burma, but we prefer to hold it outside the country as some of our member groups are still declared Unlawful Associations by the government, or some have not reached a ceasefire agreement yet.

Peace negotiations had dragged on in the past as fighting between the KIA and the government escalated in late December after a 17-year ceasefire broke down.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in Kachin since June 2011. The government on Friday announced that it would halt attacks on the rebels. Reports of renewed fighting emerged over the weekend, raising concerns that violence may erupt again.