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  • » 09/13/2013, 00.00

    MYANMAR

    Naypyidaw optimistic about cease-fire with rebels, Kachin say peace is "illusion"

    Francis Khoo Thwe

    By the end of October, the Burmese government plans to sign a joint nationwide agreement. Talks next week with Kachin leaders crucial. Meanwhile, skirmishes continue between military and militias. Violence and police abuses against the civilian population .

    Yangon (AsiaNews) - The Burmese government is " optimistic" about the possibility of reaching a joint ceasefire on a national scale, which will affect "all" armed rebel groups in the country, by the end of next month. So says an executive consultant in Naypyidaw, according to who - "fingers crossed" -  next week's talks with Kachin rebels will be " crucial " in achieving a "turning point" . However, in spite of the official announcements the situation remains critical as sources in the Northern State refer to AsiaNews. They confirm clashes between the Burmese army and Kachin rebel militia members . In recent days there was an escalation in tension and a return to large-scale conflict cannot be ruled out.

    The United Nationalities Federal Council ( Unfc ), a federation of 11 armed rebel groups in Myanmar, stressed that the peace process can not continue without an agreement between the government and Kachin . Last May, the Kachin Independence Organization ( Kio ) and the central government - which wants to reach a truce with all 16 minority groups - signed a preliminary agreement between their armed forces to stem the violence, but it was not successful .

    Hla Maung Shwe , government consultant at Myanmar's Peace Center , reported that the much longed for national ceasefire may soon arrive. "If all goes well on both sides [government and Kio members, the only ethnic group that has not reached a peace agreement ] , the talks at a national level will be held in Myitkyina [capital of Kachin State ] the first week of October " .

    Meanwhile , however, battles continue on the ground with dead and wounded on both sides. AsiaNews sources in Kachin State report of a bitter battle between a battalion of 50 men from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA ) ​​and a group of soldiers from the Burmese army , which took place on 10 September in the southern state . The clash lasted for over six hours and caused the death of an Army officer.  According to the Kachin the battle was sparked by the Burmese troops invading ( with artillery shells ) an area guarded by the rebels. "We are on the third day of battle - says a resident of the area - things are not going well and peace remains a mere illusion". A cease-fire at the national level , he adds, will only be "waste paper " if the Burmese army does not stop fighting.

    In a second incident , five officers of the Burmese police from Myitkyina division detained an ethnic Kachin boy of 16 - for no reason -, torturing him to extort a confession relating to a crime he did not commit. The young man was beaten, kicked and punched, causing serious injuries. He was released after a few days of captivity and now is in a serious condition , although it is not life threatening . It is not the first time Burmese officers and security agents blatantly violate and abuse the Kachin civilian population.

    The current fighting between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), broke out in 2011, causing dozens of civilian casualties and displacing at least 100,000 people, mostly Kachin civilians. The leaders of the independence movement and representatives of President Thein Sein's semi-civilian central government have met on several occasions but have failed so far to reach tangible and lasting results. A final ceasefire has yet to be worked out. However, fighting has reached the KIO's southern division, as well as a northern area of ​​ Shan State, not far from the Shwe Gas Pipeline, a key component in the strategic energy sector.

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