end in sight to north Myanmar
insurgency By Saw Yan Naing
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A war between ethnic
insurgents and government troops in Myanmar's
Kachin State has seen dozens of deaths and
displacement of over 70,000 residents over the
last year, with no sign of resolution.
"There have been at least 1,640 incidents
of fighting, and each one of them has involved
causalities," said La Nan, the
spokesperson for the Kachin
Independence Organization (KIO), which has resists
Burmese troops in the predominantly Christian
state in southern Myanmar.
troops are now targeting even farmers and
villagers, accusing them of supporting Kachin
rebels and planting bombs, said La Nan.
KIO source in Laiza, the headquarters of the KIO
on Sino-Myanmar border, said that the government
had plans to overrun their stronghold. The army
has reinforced their troops with military
supplies, including artillery and mortar
launchers, in Kachin State's Bhamo city and in
northern Shan State's Muse Township.
KIO - now with an estimated 15,000 militia -
signed a ceasefire agreement with the government
in 1994, but the latter broke down on June 19 last
year when the government launched attacks on the
KIO's military wing, the Kachin Independence Army
Many believe the 1994 truce was
insignificant, as the KIO's calls for autonomy and
fundamental rights were not addressed during the
After the ceasefire, the
KIO was offered business opportunities in logging,
jade mining and other trades. However, these
offers were seen by the KIO as an attempt by
Burmese cronies and officials, Chinese businessmen
and even some KIA officers to exploit Kachin
State's rich forest and natural resources.
Some well-respected and educated Kachin
leaders thought the ex-Myanmar military government
was sincere in bringing about a political solution
to the conflict. With that hope, KIO
representatives joined the National Convention,
which is part of the "Seven-step roadmap" written
by former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, the erstwhile
junta's chief spy.
Dr Tu Ja, a Kachin
politician and a former KIO leader, took part in
government meetings as well as the writing of the
draft of the 2008 constitution. In 2009, he and
some of his colleagues resigned from the KIO to
form the Kachin State Progress Party to contest
the 2010 general election.
tensions mounted in 2010 after the government
asked all ethnic rebels to serve as part of a
"Border Guard Force" under the command of the
Myanmar armed forces. The KIO did not accede to
Dr Tu Ja's party was
disqualified by the Election Commission. When he
tried to contest the election as an independent
candidate, his candidature was rejected. Further,
the government canceled three constituencies in
Kachin State before the April 2012 by-election
citing security reasons, and he again lost a
chance to contest.
It's understandable why
KIO leaders are taking time to reach another
agreement with the new government. "We will be
very careful to sign any agreement this time," La
Having learnt the hard way about
the government's insincerity for 18 years, the KIO
now seems to be focusing on the political
solution, and not just the ceasefire. In early
July, Kachin leaders rejected the government's
offer to hold peace talks in Bhamo Township.
La Nan said the fighting was escalating in
the meantime. On July 6-7, troops shelled the
KIA's military bases, about 13 kilometers from the
KIO's headquarters. "It is nearly one year
President Thein Sein ordered the army to stop
attacking us, but it is being ignored by the
troops," he added.
La Nan also said the
government doesn't recognize ethnic armed
resistance as a political issue. "They only see us
as insurgent groups that cause instability. They
think if we don't carry guns, there will be no
conflict." But civil wars in Myanmar began because
of broken political promises. "This needs to be
solved by political means."
minorities have been fighting for independence or
autonomy since after Myanmar gained independence
from British colonialists in 1948. After being
promised self-determination, autonomy and even
separate states, ethnic Kachin, Chin and Shan
leaders signed the Panglong Agreement with the
Union government in 1947. However, the promise was
"We took up arms and fought
simply because we lost our rights and equality,"
La Nan said.
The ceasefire program with
the ethnic rebels that the previous regime started
in the late 1980s is just to halt the hostilities,
and not to bring about permanent peace.
his analysis in last month's The Asia-Pacific
Journal: Japan Focus, Myanmar expert and author
Bertil Lintner wrote that the outbreak of
hostilities in Kachin State shows that ceasefires
only freeze underlying problems without providing
lasting solutions. There are still at least 50,000
armed men and women in ethnic resistances, he
International pressure will not be
on the new government, but on ethnic rebels to
cooperate with the government in the new existing
political structures, Lintner wrote.
international community is involved. At a meeting
with President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw in June,
the Peace Donor Support Group (PDSG) -
representing the governments of Norway, the UK and
Australia, as well as the European Union, the
United Nations and the World Bank - offered nearly
$500 million to support peace-building and other
The Norwegian government also
independently funds $5 million towards the peace
process in eastern Myanmar, including needs
assessments aimed at resettling refugees - part of
a project conducted by its Norwegian Initiative.
Efforts by international non-governmental
organizations (INGOs) are a good start, La Nan
said. "But this alone is not enough," he added.
"NGOs and INGOs should seek to eradicate the root
of the problem."
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Saw Yan Naing is a senior
reporter at Chiang Mai-based The Irrawaddy
Magazine. He can be reached at