Generally, a trip to this border town is not easy. Though Laiza is situated in Kachin State, visitors are not normally able to get here directly as the road is blocked by the Burmese military thanks to recent fighting with the rebel Kachin Independent Army, which calls the town its headquarters. Instead, travelers must take a roundabout trip to the Chinese side before crossing over and entering Laiza from Burma’s northern neighbor.

But last month, when ethnic rebel leaders held a summit to discuss ceasefire negotiations with the government, the Burmese Army opened up the road for the meeting. From Bhamo, a government-controlled town in Kachin State, it only took a few hours by car to get to Laiza.

Though it was my first visit to the town, I was not unfamiliar with Laiza. According to colleagues who have been here previously, the rebel stronghold used to be a prosperous town that benefitted from a lively border trade. Casinos and hotels still dot the cityscape.

But since early last year, when the government attacked the town and sent residents fleeing, Laiza today seems a shadow of its former glory. The main roads, which used to hum with the business of commerce, are somewhat deserted, except for regular patrols by KIA soldiers.

“I used to earn around 80,000 kyats a day in the past,” a betel-quid seller recounted.

During the four-day conference, security was tightened across the town, offering a chance to talk to some rebel soldiers and take their photos. One soldier who I spoke with said he had joined the KIA when he was just 14 years old. I asked the now 19-year-old what he thinks about the peace process.

“I don’t know very much. If there is no fighting here, it’ll be good for all of us. But it might be boring if there is no more gunfire!”