Church leaders in Kachin state say they hope peace talks between the government and the ethnic opposition Kachin Independence Organization will permanently end fighting that erupted last June and has led to the displacement of tens of thousands of people. A government delegation yesterday met leaders of the KIO in Ruili, China, across the border from Kachin state, with talks ongoing today as both sides discuss strategies for an end to hostilities. Bishop Raymond Sumlut Gam of Bamaw diocese said today that peace must be secured for the sake of the ethnic region’s long-term security. “We will be grateful if a good result comes out of the talks. But I can’t tell exactly how successfully they can negotiate for peace or how mutual trust can be established,” he said. During negotiations yesterday, the KIO repeated its call for further political discussions with the government in the capital Naypyidaw, which it believes will pave the way towards greater self-determination in Kachin state within the framework of a federal system, according to a report by The Irrawaddy, citing a press release from the opposition group. Father Paul Aung Dang, director of Karuna Banmaw Social Services, said that fighting that has disrupted live in the region since June last year has stopped but that much remains to be done to repatriate thousands of refugees who left their homes to escape the violence. “It will take time for the refugees to go back to their homes even if the peace talks bring a good result,” he said, adding that new refugees continue to arrive at churches and at makeshift camps near the Chinese border. The priest said the conflict in Kachin state was not just a local problem. “We need to pray not only for the refugees but for all people affected by past violence. The Kachin conflict is not just an issue for Kachins. It concerns the whole nation.”
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