Myanmar to hold peace talks in China with Kachin rebels

YANGON Sat Feb 2, 2013 11:41pm IST

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YANGON (Reuters) - The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) said on Saturday it had agreed to hold talks with Myanmar's government in China next week, to try to end stubborn conflict with the military that has intensified in the past two months.

The KIA said in a statement the Chinese government "will take a role as a witness and mediate during the meeting" adding that it urged "the Kachin community, our friends and supporters around the world to pray for our leaders."

The meeting will be held on Monday in the Chinese border town of Ruili, which has hosted three rounds of talks since a 17-year ceasefire broke down in June 2011. The two sides have met at least eight times but have failed to agree on terms for a permanent truce.

The talks could reduce tensions in a conflict that has displaced tens of thousands of civilians and seen an unprecedented use of fighter jets and helicopter gunships, an escalation that has worried China, which borders Myanmar.

A lasting truce could be hard to reach, however, and would require at least one party to soften its stance. The government first wants a ceasefire deal signed, which the KIA has refused to do until concrete terms of a political deal are offered.

The fighting has also cast doubts over whether President Thein Sein, a former general, has full control over the country's military. He has issued repeated calls for troops not to attack the KIA, which the rebels, witnesses and independent journalists say the army has not heeded.

In an announcement on state-owned MRTV on Friday, the government said it was preparing to hold talks with the KIA and its political arm, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO). Other ethnic minority groups that had already agreed truces would help facilitate dialogue.

Since late 2011, Myanmar has agreed ceasefires with 10 rebel groups, including the Karen National Union (KNU), which had fought the central government since 1949 in what was the world's longest-running separatist insurgency. The conflict with the KIA is the only one yet to be halted.

Representatives of two of those groups would assist in Monday's talks, a government negotiator told Reuters, requesting anonymity. He would not identify which groups they were.

(Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Stephen Powell)

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