Rebels and the Myanmar government met Monday and agreed to continue talks in an effort to quell the violence that has roiled Kachin state.
The two sides met in the Chinese town of Ruili on the border with Myanmar, also known as Burma. They issued a statement pledging to open up channels of communication, defuse military tensions and create a monitoring system to enforce a cease-fire, according to the Reuters and Associated Press news agencies. Political talks, widely seen as key to any enduring peace, were also promised.
The ethnic Kachin rebels have met with government officials before, only to end up clashing with the army again. The new round of talks follows a recent escalation in fighting, which troubled the U.S. and the United Nations, as the government launched air attacks on the rebels. The army recently seized several key areas around the rebel headquarters in Laiza, strengthening its hand.
Clashes and government offensives have been reported even though President Thein Sein announced a unilateral halt to hostilities last month. Despite the talk of enforcing a cease-fire, it was unclear if a formal deal to do so was signed Monday, Reuters reported.
Rights activists were skeptical about the new discussions. “This is exactly what they did with the Kachin last time,” promising “step-by-step talks leading to a political solution,” said Myra Dahgaypaw, campaign coordinator for the U.S. Campaign for Burma.
That political solution never happened, Dahgaypaw said. “So much depends on how much the regime is willing to compromise,” she said.
A rebel sergeant told the Irrawaddy magazine that the insurgents did not expect a swift resolution. “We hope there will be a truce so peace will come, but nobody thinks this is going to end soon,” Kachin Independence Army Sgt. Brang Shawng told the publication Monday.
The Kachin rebels want greater autonomy. A long-standing truce with the government was shattered more than a year and a half ago, plunging the area into new bloodshed. Since then, the U.N. refugee agency estimates more than 88,000 people have been displaced by the conflict.
Rights groups warn that the ethnic conflicts that divide Myanmar threaten its progress away from military rule. The long-isolated nation has rebuilt ties with the West and taken steps toward reform, but analysts say it must defuse ethnic tensions and negotiate a durable peace with the Kachin insurgents if it is to continue its strides.
The two sides will meet again before the end of February, according to the Associated Press.