05/31/2013, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Kachin Catholics cautiously optimistic over rebel-government agreement

by Francis Khoo Thwe
Yesterday the two sides signed seven-point deal in Mitkyina, the first step towards a permanent ceasefire. For AsiaNews sources, the presence of representatives of other minorities and a UN envoy was an "important" factor for clinching the deal. Myanmar's government and military have come to realise they cannot win militarily and are now open to real talks.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - The government of Myanmar and ethnic rebels from the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) reached an agreement yesterday in Mitkyina, capital of Kachin State, in northern Myanmar.

Although the seven-point deal is an "important step", similar agreements have been signed in the past, but were never implemented.

Yet, Catholic Kachin sources told AsiaNews that they are "cautiously optimistic" about the seven-point accord signed yesterday. For them, the presence of United Nations representatives will boost the chances of its implementation.

The agreement is a first step towards a permanent ceasefire and the redeployment of troops on both sides.

Talks on the political status of Kachin are set to come at a later stage to settle all disputes and achieve lasting peaceful coexistence.

After a 17-year ceasefire broke down in June 2011, fighting between government and Kachin rebel forces left scores of dead and nearly 100,000 displaced.

UN special envoy to Burma Vijay Nambiar oversaw the latest round of talks, which were held in the presence of representatives of other Myanmar ethnic groups.

Catholic sources told AsiaNews that the agreement reached yesterday "is not very different" from others signed in the past.

"Kachin demands are old and have been on the table for quite some time." However, the deal is "an important step" because "other ethnic groups and a representative of the United Nations were present."

"Kachin civilians will not completely trust the promises, especially those who suffered greatly in the past. They want to see actual facts and don't fully trust the Burmese, but they are cautiously optimistic."

Meeting the demands of Myanmar's ethnic minorities "is a crucial problem" that must be solved before real peace is achieved and the country fully develops along democratic lines.

Despite past failures, there is one major difference this time. "Before, the Burmese thought they could eliminate the Kachin minority, by war if necessary," sources said. However, because the latter "put up fierce resistance, thanks to the strong roots of their Christian faith, [government and military leaders] have now realised that they cannot achieve their goal and that the issue must be settled through dialogue and mediation, not violence and oppression."

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