KIO's N'ban La meets Thein Sein as clashes continue

Gen Nban La, Vice Chairman of KIO

During a visit to the Burmese capital Naypyidaw last week, Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) vice chair General N’Ban La met with President Thein Sein on September 9th, in what appears to be the first time the two men have met since the conflict began in June 2011. The veteran KIO leader was in Naypyidaw as part of a delegation of senior leaders from ethnic armed groups including the Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP), the Karen National Union the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), groups. N'ban La was joined by Dr La Ja, the KIO's general secretary.

On the day of the talks N'ban La was quoted by the Myanmar Times emphasizing the KIO's long standing call for an inclusive peace process. “We believe that signing the agreement with all-inclusivity is a realistic and pragmatic approach to implementing the peace process,” he said.

Historian Thant Myint U who is an aid to the president was more upbeat. “Hopefully remaining issues, promised work, consultations, completed over coming three weeks. All in all a good day for peace in Myanmar,” the grandson of the late UN General Secretary U Thant tweeted shortly after the meeting concluded.

Despite the optimism it remains far from clear if the KIO will sign on the National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) before the upcoming November election as the President Thein Sein and his chief negotiator Aung Min have pushed for. N'ban La's meeting with Thein Sein took place last week shortly after KIO forces from the group's armed wing clashed with troops from the Tatmadaw in both Kachin and northern Shan states.

On September 8th troops from Kachin Independence Army (KIA) 12th and 27th Battalions clashed with army troops from Light Infantry Battalions (LIB) 15 and 105 in Mansi Sub Township (in Muse Township) near Ga Sha Nawng. No one appeared to have been injured in these clashes which paused the next day when the high level meeting took place.

Also last week KIA troops and their colleagues from local KIO controlled villages militias clashed with Burmese Army in northern Shan state. The clashes took place in around the Mongkoe Township village of Lau Shang Jai and Lau Ja Jai, the Kachin News Group has learned. The clashes began after Burmese Army troops advanced into KIA territory.

The clashes in northern Shan state again halted the day of the talks in Naypyiydaw but then resumed on Saturday. Clashes continued on Monday and Tuesday morning, the Kachin News Gruop has learned. The clashes were triggered when Burma army troops were advanced from Mung Ya in to the Mongkoe area near Bung Hkyet village, according to KIO sources. KIA forces have clashed repeatedly with the army while both sides continue to take part in much heralded peace talks. The Burmese army's aggressive tactics in Kachin and northern Shan states against KIO positions has left many Kachin wary of the government's peace overtures.

The government and its peace expert advisers have sought to downplay the ongoing clashes or ignore them altogether. In an op-ed published in the New York Times last month Thant Myint U appeared to suggest that major clashes haven't taken place between the KIA and the Burmese military since 2012. “The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) fought pitched battles with the government as recently as 2012 and feelings are still raw,” he said. While it’s unclear what Thant Myint U exactly meant by the term “pitched battles”, his definition doesn't appear to include airstrikes which were carried out against KIA positions in northern Kachin state by government planes as recently as July of this year.

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