Myanmar president orders shakeup for peace talks

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 29, 2012 2:44 PM
Myanmar president orders shakeup for peace talks

By Aung Hla Tun

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar will overhaul its peace negotiating teams in a bid to settle armed rebellions with ethnic rebel militias following a failure to end a stubborn conflict in the strategic Kachin State, sources close to the process said on Sunday.

President Thein Sein has ordered a shakeup after a lack of a breakthrough following six rounds of talks with Kachin political leaders. Fighting between troops and militias has displaced more than 50,000 people since June.

The reformist president, who appealed to dozens of ethnic groups in August to start talks, would bring in more senior people to lead talks as part of his three-stage plan for "everlasting peace" in a country plagued by decades of unrest.

Two sources close to the government's peace effort said the new faces would include one of Thein Sein's two vice presidents and top military figures.

"The new team will comprise many members including senior army officers, parliamentary lawmakers and state chief ministers

and will be led by a vice president," one source said, requesting anonymity because the issue was highly sensitive.

The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) is one of the most powerful rebel groups in Myanmar. Kachin State is crucial to Myanmar's economic interests, rich in natural resources and home to hydropower plants supplying electricity to energy-hungry China.

Rail Transportation Minister Aung Min, one of the top negotiators, told reporters in the capital Naypyitaw two negotiating teams would be consolidated into one, but gave no further details, a local journalist said.

The comments could not be immediately confirmed.

WESTERN PRESSURE

The need for permanent political deals with the rebels has been pushed by Western powers as a priority for stability and economic development. Preliminary ceasefires have been agreed with at least 10 ethnic political groups or armies in Myanmar.

The Karen National Union (KNU), which waged one of the world's longest-running insurgencies until recently, this month became the first group to begin talks towards a political agreement. The substance of those talks is expected to be granting some autonomy if they agree to form political parties.

The two teams are led by Aung Min and Aung Thaung, a heavyweight in the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and former Industry Minister.

Analysts and diplomats say Aung Min's group has won the trust of skeptical rebel leaders and enjoyed far more success than the team led by Aung Thaung, considered a hardliner.

One of the sources said Aung Thaung was among those due to be replaced. His team has been in talks with the KIA and its political wing, the Kachin Independence Organisation, but the dialogue towards a ceasefire has been fruitless.

A mine placed on a rail track exploded in Kachin State on Sunday, wounding two people, including a Buddhist monk, and derailed eight coaches, a local rail official told Reuters.

No group claimed responsibility for the bombing.

State media also reported three local government officials were killed and three missing following a KIA attack on an administrative office in Kachin's Sadon area on Saturday. Rebels also destroyed vehicles and a bridge, newspapers said.

World powers has called for restraint on both sides, while rights groups say the military, which Thein Sein has instructed not to attack the KIA, has committed a litany of rights abuses, including rape, forced labor and extrajudicial killings.

(Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Maria Golovnina)