YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's government and ethnic Kachin rebels met Thursday for cease-fire talks to end several months of armed clashes near the northern border with China, but their preliminary meeting did not make any major breakthroughs.
After two days of negotiations, a high-level government team and members of the Kachin Independence Organization agreed to continue talks later and in the meantime to inform the other side before deploying troops, according to an official at the talks who declined to be named.
The talks were the latest efforts by Myanmar's new, nominally civilian government to end the country's long-running ethnic conflicts, one of many reforms under way after years of military rule.
Stopping ethnic clashes is a key demand of Western governments that are weighing lifting sanctions imposed during the junta's rule. Last week, the government signed a cease-fire pact with Karen rebels in eastern Myanmar, in a major step toward ending one of the world's longest-running insurgencies. Other talks are reportedly taking place with the Shan, Karenni and Chin.
A prominent Kachin mediator, Rev. Saboi Jum, told The Associated Press that talks were held across the border in Ruili in China's Yunnan province.
"Too much damage has been done since fighting erupted in June last year. It is most important to build confidence and trust between each other, and a lot of tension will be reduced if government troops withdraw from the KIO areas," he said.
The next round of negotiations would be held in Myanmar, according to the official who spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to disclose details of the talks.
The Kachin Independence Organization reached a peace deal with the country's former ruling junta in 1994, but the truce broke down in 2010 after the group rejected a call by the junta to transform its troops into border guards under the government's leadership.
The Kachin have been fighting the government since June, when the army tried to break up some of their militia strongholds. Thousands of ethnic Kachin have fled their homes to avoid the fighting.
Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has described an end to the fighting with ethnic guerrillas as a national priority, and last month said she would be willing to help with peace negotiations.
The Nobel laureate and former political prisoner sent a letter to the Kachin people expressing compassion, particularly for the women and children who have been uprooted by the fighting, said Saboi Jum.
She "expressed her hope that one day the effected population would be able to come home and live in peace," he said, saying that Suu Kyi's message "lifted our spirits and we are very happy."
Suu Kyi's enormous popularity with the poor and disenfranchised majority is expected to propel her to her first seat in parliament during April by-elections.