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Pact between Myanmar's government and Kachin rebels questioned

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McClatchy Tribune in Yangon

Fighting in disputed region continues despite agreement to ease tensions, with both sides accused of continuing to enlist child soldiers

Analysts and members of the Kachin community have expressed scepticism about a seven-point agreement signed between ethnic Kachin rebels and Myanmar's government and hailed by both sides as a breakthrough.

altThe two sides failed to agree on a ceasefire over three days of talks that ended on Thursday in the Kachin state capital, Myitkyina, instead signing a pact that includes new rules for monitoring fighting and the resettlement of citizens as a result of clashes.

"Kachin people want political dialogue," said Nawdin Lahpai, editor-in-chief of the Thailand-based Kachin News Group. "The government wants to eliminate the armed groups and have a ceasefire, but it isn't willing to have political dialogue. They just ignore it."

Since its move to a quasi-democracy in 2011, Myanmar has sought to stem fighting with ethnic groups so it can focus on developing its economy.

The Kachin rebels are the only significant armed ethnic group that hasn't signed a ceasefire agreement. Fighting in Kachin, located near Myanmar's northern border with China, has continued since a 17-year ceasefire broke down in June 2011, displacing some 100,000 people, according to the United Nations.

The government characterised Thursday's agreement with the Kachin Independence Organisation - an umbrella group seeking greater autonomy - as a significant step forward.

"We're working not just towards a just and sustainable peace but towards a new political culture, one built on compromise, mutual respect and understanding," said Aung Min, the minister representing the government at the talks. "I'm confident that we are turning the corner."

Even as negotiators met last week, however, fighting continued. On Monday, some 200 villagers fled clashes near the town of Bamao, according to Khon Ja, a co-ordinator for the Yangon-based Kachin Peace Network, a civic group providing aid to Kachin civilians displaced by the conflict.

Myanmar had hoped to reach a comprehensive accord by July. This goal was postponed to October and now to November.

The fact that clashes continued during a week of talks aimed at reducing tension calls into question the government's chain of command, some said.

"Not only the government but the president himself cannot control the army," Khon Ja said.

Human rights groups have questioned the military's commitment to ending the conflict.

Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, a Thailand-based watchdog, said the military and the Kachin Independence Army, the Kachin military wing, have both continued to enlist child soldiers and deploy landmines.

"Neither party had taken significant steps to address these abuses," he said, adding that the government hasn't given humanitarian aid groups enough access to citizens displaced by the violence.

Ethnic political groups, including the Kachin, met in Thailand on Thursday, pledging to draft within three months an alternative constitution they hope might replace Myanmar's controversial document, written by the armed forces.

Source link: http://www.scmp.com/news/asia/article/1330483/pact-between-myanmars-government-and-kachin-rebels-questioned

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