US alarm over north Myanmar unrest risk to peace talks

Pu Zing Cung from Chin National Front (CNF) talks to media during a press conference.
Pu Zing Cung from Chin National Front (CNF) talks to media during a press conference.PHOTO: EPA

YANGON (AFP) - The United States on Friday said it was "deeply concerned" about escalating conflict in parts of northern Myanmar, raising fears over the fragile peace process as the latest round of ceasefire talks in Yangon ended without a breakthrough.

Efforts to end decades of civil war in ethnic minority regions have brought long-standing enemies to the negotiating table since a quasi-civilian government took power four years ago, but outbreaks of heavy fighting in several areas have overshadowed peace efforts.

In a strongly worded statement, the United States embassy in Yangon said it was "deeply concerned by reports of intensifying military action" in Kachin State and northern Shan State.

"Continued fighting needlessly puts the lives of vulnerable communities at risk and undermines the trust that will be essential to achieving a nationwide ceasefire agreement," the statement said, calling on humanitarian access to affected communities.

"We also strongly urge restraint on all sides and call for dialogue in the service of genuine, lasting peace," it added.

Kachin has been wracked by conflict since a 17-year ceasefire collapsed in 2011, tarnishing efforts by Myanmar's quasi-civilian government to draw a line under the civil strife that has blighted the country since independence from colonial rule in 1948.

In March President Thein Sein secured a draft deal with more than a dozen rebel groups to end decades of fighting, described by the United Nations as a "historic and significant achievement".

The government is eager to seal a full nationwide ceasefire before elections on November 8 which are seen as a key test of reforms after decades of military rule.

Looming polls have added urgency to the situation, threatening to sweep peace talks off the agenda and promising a potentially reshaped political landscape.

The teams have already agreed to 10 points with the final three points to be discussed at a further set of meetings to be held in August, according to government negotiators.

Speaking after the meeting on Friday, Pu Zing Cung, from the ethnic armed group delegation said the August talks would be "really important".

The ethnic groups have called for the deal to include three groups currently locked in combat with government troops - the Arakan Army, Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Kokang - which observers say have created a sticking point in the talks.

Pu Zing Cung said the armed groups would continue pushing for an "inclusive deal".

Also still to be discussed are crunch issues like disarmament and security sector reform, he added.

"If we can make decision by then, it's possible to sign national ceasefire agreement before the election," he said.

Representatives from Kachin have been part of the talks despite the ongoing clashes.

The United Nations says more than 100,000 people are displaced in Kachin and northern Shan due to the four-year conflict.

Around half of those are in areas outside of government control, with scant access to international humanitarian relief.