Myanmar gov't officials meet with Kachin rebels

December 1, 2011 - 9:40 AM

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A Myanmar government delegation has held talks with representatives of a major ethnic rebel group with which it has had armed clashes since June, state-controlled media reported Thursday.

The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said the high-level delegation met Tuesday with six representatives of the Kachin Independence Organization led by its chairman Zaung Hara — also known as Zawng Hkra — in Ruili in China's Yunnan province.

The report said both sides agreed at the meeting to continue the initial peace talks aimed at a cease-fire and political dialogues.

Myanmar for decades has been at odds with ethnic minorities living in border areas who seek greater autonomy. A military junta that took power in 1988 signed cease-fire agreements with many, including the Kachin, whose state is in the north.

In recent years, however, as the central government has sought to consolidate its power, some of the pacts have been strained, and sporadic warfare broke out with the Kachins in June this year as the government tried to break up some of their militia strongholds.

Kachin sympathizers have circulated accounts of government brutality, but the remote area is mostly inaccessible to foreigners and the allegations are difficult to confirm. The government had reported little on the fighting.

A website sympathetic to the ethnic rebels, The Kachin Post, confirmed Tuesday's talks and said the meeting was the fifth between the sides.

The meeting took place a day before U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived on a visit to encourage the political and economic reforms started by the new nominally civilian but military-aligned and elected government.

A report released Wednesday by the U.S.-based group Physicians for Human Rights said its investigations had found that Myanmar's army in Kachin state had "looted food from civilians, fired indiscriminately into villages, threatened villages with attacks, and used civilians as porters and human minesweepers."

The group said the finding showed that ethnic minorities in border areas had not benefited from the reforms, and it urged U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to make their plight a priority in talks with the Myanmar government.

Clinton on Thursday challenged the Myanmar's leaders to continue and expand upon the reforms, calling for the release of all political prisoners, an end to violent campaigns against ethnic minorities and a breaking of military ties with North Korea.

Clinton made her comments ahead of a meeting with Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was released from house arrest last year after two decades of on-and-off imprisonment.

She last month expressed concerns over the hostilities in Kachin state and said she would be willing to help with peace negotiations.

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Online: Physicians for Human Rights report: http://tinyurl.com/c2wmwqz