UN observes Myanmar peace talks with Kachin rebels

AFP , Tuesday 28 May 2013

First round of talks between the Myanmar government and Representatives of the Kachin Independence Army begins with UN in attendance

A senior UN envoy on Tuesday attended the first talks on home soil between Myanmar's government and Kachin rebels since a deadly ethnic conflict flared up nearly two years ago, an official said.

The bloodshed in the northern state of Kachin bordering China has -- along with sectarian unrest elsewhere in the country -- overshadowed widely praised political changes as Myanmar emerges from decades of military rule.

Representatives of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and President Thein Sein's reformist government met Tuesday in the Kachin state capital Myitkyina for the first time since the conflict resumed, a government official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Previous rounds of talks had been held across the border in China.

This time UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's special adviser on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, also joined the meeting as an observer, the official said, along with representatives of China and other ethnic minorities.

UN officials in Yangon declined to comment on his role.

Min Zaw Oo, a director of the EU-funded Myanmar Peace Center who also attended, described the meeting as "very good".

"We mainly discussed the process of starting political dialogue. Also we talked about how to cooperate with the observer groups to enable a ceasefire and the relocation of IDPs (internally displaced persons)," he said.

The talks were expected to last three days, according to participants.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in Kachin since June 2011, when a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the rebels broke down in the remote, resource-rich northern region.

The military's use of air strikes against the KIA in December caused an international outcry.

While the rebels reacted cautiously to subsequent government pledges to end the military offensive, fighting has eased in recent months.

The Kachin, who are fighting for greater autonomy, say any negotiations should address their demands for more political rights.

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