Hundreds join Myanmar peace rally

Demonstrators including ethnic Kachins, artists and civil society groups, walk through downtown Yangon in a peace rally, on September 21. Hundreds of people gathered in Yangon calling for an end to the festering conflict between Kachin ethnic minority rebels and Myanmar's army

Hundreds of people gathered in Yangon on Friday calling for an end to the festering conflict between Kachin ethnic minority rebels and Myanmar's army.

In a colourful rally to mark the International Day of Peace, at least 200 people -- including Kachins, artists and civil society groups -- met in downtown Yangon, many wearing blue T-shirts bearing the slogan "Stop Civil War", or carrying banners and plastic doves.

They began a march through several neighbourhoods in the city to draw attention to the Kachin conflict that has gripped Myanmar since June last year when a 17-year ceasefire between the government and rebels collapsed.

The country's reformist government has agreed ceasefires with several other ethnic rebel groups as part of reforms since coming to power last year, but fighting rages unabated in Kachin State, in the nation's far north.

"We need the rule of law to get peace. When we get peace, we can get development... so we ask for rule of law first, then to build peace", said Nay Myo Zin, leader of civil society group the Myanmar Social Development Network.

A planned trip by bus-loads of Kachin activists from Yangon to the capital Naypyidaw was blocked earlier by police, forcing the protesters to join the Yangon rally instead.

Several rounds of talks over the Kachin conflict have been overshadowed by ongoing battles, while tens of thousands of people have been displaced.

The Kachin Independence Organisation recently urged the government to end its offensives in the state, alluding to the worsening refugee crisis and civilian death toll.

Aung Min, President Thein Sein's pointman on the peace negotiations has been praised for acknowledging the need for compromise from the government side.

But in a recent interview he said Naypyidaw's influence over army units stationed in the area was limited.

"I cannot personally make the government troops withdraw. I can only assume responsibility for political and economic issues," he was reported as saying in The Irrawaddy Magazine, a Thai-based exile journal, this week.

"The withdrawal is something that the commanders from both armies must agree upon."