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Peace talks begin, yet armies face off in Myanmar

Villagers flee to Kachin refugee camps

<p>General Gun Maw of the Kachin Independence Army speaks during peace talks this week (AFP photo)</p>

General Gun Maw of the Kachin Independence Army speaks during peace talks this week (AFP photo)

  • John Zaw, Mandalay
  • Myanmar
  • October 9, 2013
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More than 100 villagers have fled their homes in southern Kachin state amid a standoff between Myanmar troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), despite the two sides currently engaging in ceasefire talks.

“At least 800 troops have been deployed in Mansi township and both the military and the Kachin rebels are preparing positions for fighting,” said Zaw Bauk, head of the Kachin Baptist Convention. “They seem to be waiting for word from the peace talks in Myitkyina.”

He said that around 130 civilians, mostly women, from surrounding villages arrived in a KBC-administered refugee camp close to Mansi on Monday. The group has provided food, clothing and shelter.

Lar Nu, who was among those to arrive in the camp, said: “We fled from our villages just two hours before the troops arrived. Otherwise, we would have been trapped in the village and unable to leave. The troop positions are just one mile from our villages.

“We are very concerned for the remaining villagers, who can’t flee because the soldiers have already reached there,” he added.

The Myanmar government on Tuesday began peace talks with the KIA, against whom it has been fighting intermittently since June 2011. Despite various stabs at dialogue over the past year, tensions remain high in the region and sporadic fighting has continued over the past two months.

Similar reports circulated of military reinforcements in Putao Township, northern Kachin state, in late September.

Aung Naing Oo, from the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), which is involved in the negotiations, said that both sides have tried to discuss ways of reducing military tension.

President Thein Sein has twice since June 2011 ordered his troops not to attack the Kachin, but the calls have not been heeded.

Aung Naing Oo denied that there was any miscommunication between the government and the army, given that high level military personnel were attending the negotiations, alongside the government’s peace committee.

Fr Lazum Tu, from Namlim Pa village, Banmaw Diocese, confirmed that military reinforcements had been deployed along a road in Mansi that acts as a key transport link for teak and jade, although no fighting has taken place.

“When the military has taken the opportunity of peace talks to deploy reinforcements, it will be a long time before permanent peace is reached, and may damage trust building,” he said. “So I have no high expectation from the current peace talks for tangible results.” 

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