Govt Army, KIA Trade Accusations as Conflict Hots Up

Smoke rises from the village of Na Lung, where Burmese troops reportedly torched houses after capturing the area during their ongoing offensive against the KIA. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

Smoke rises from the village of Na Lung, where Burmese troops reportedly torched houses after capturing the area during their ongoing offensive against the KIA. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)

SINGAPORE — Burmese authorities and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) continue to trade accusations amid fresh clashes at various locations across Kachin State in recent days.

On Wednesday, an explosion was reported in the center of Laiza, the KIA’s main stronghold, around 100 meters from the militia’s headquarters in a hotel facing the Chinese town of Nabang.

“A mother and child suffered cuts from flying debris as an unknown projectile tore through the roof and an upper bedroom of their home before exploding on the ground floor,” The Irrawaddy‘s Steve Tickner reported from the scene.

If the explosion was from a Burmese artillery round, it would mark the second time that the Burmese army has fired into Laiza, a town of around 10,000. Shelling killed three people on Jan. 14, in what human rights groups said was a breach of the laws of war.

Elsewhere, according to Burmese state media, six government troops were killed in a KIA attack near Ja Mai village in Kachin State on Monday.

The Kachin rebels reportedly torched gem shops in Hpakant, a town in the region’s main jade-mining area. The shops are believed to be joint ventures between the government and Zaw Zaw, one of Burma’s richest businessmen and a well-known crony of the former military junta.

Meanwhile, KIA sources reported on Tuesday that Burmese forces had torched 300 houses in Na Lung, a village about 25 km southwest of Laiza that had been captured during the offensive against Hkaya Bum hill. The village of Namsanyang has also reportedly been destroyed by fires set by Burmese troops.

The Myawady, a newspaper published by Burma’s Tatmadaw, or armed forces, that recently launched an English-language website, said that there was fighting near Lajayang on Monday around an area where Burmese troops overran three KIA outposts the previous Friday, just hours before a short-lived ceasefire was announced by the Naypyidaw government.

“There was an attack by 70 soldiers of KIA to the Myanma Tatmadaw’s platoon at hill point 1012” near Lajayang, the newspaper reported, adding that the attack began at 1 pm while Burmese troops were “doing administration work” and ended when the KIA soldiers withdrew around six hours later.

With both sides blaming the other for the stillborn ceasefire, which collapsed almost as soon as it was set to begin on Saturday morning, each has sought fresh ammunition in the ongoing wars of words playing out alongside the ground battle.

After the Jan. 14 release of eight government child soldiers by the KIA, Burma’s Defense Ministry said that it was holding 63 Kachin rebels, adding that the captives were being treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.

The KIA said that it had captured the child soldiers during the now 19-month-old war with the Burmese army at various locations across Kachin State.

The Burmese government army, and several of the country’s ethnic minority militias, have long stood accused of recruiting underage soldiers and porters for deployment on the front lines of the country’s long-running civil wars, which have taken place in borderlands close to China, India and Thailand.

The government says it wants to hold new peace talks with the KIA, which in turn said on Monday that it wants any discussions to be conducted via the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an umbrella organization it belongs to that includes 11 ethnic minority militias. Ten of the 11 have signed tentative ceasefires with the government.

The government is considering the request, with the UNFC seeking discussion of issues such as the future political status of ethnic minority regions in Burma, as well as Burma’s controversial 2008 Constitution, which, despite the formal handover of power from a military to civilian government, gives the military wide-ranging veto powers.

China has repeatedly called for end the fighting in Kachin state, where it has significant economic interests.

“The Chinese side is paying great attention to the situation in north Myanmar,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Le on Tuesday. Hong urged concerned parties to fully cease fire as soon as possible in order to maintain peace and tranquility along the Sino-Burmese border, according to Xinhua, a Chinese state news agency.

12 Responses to Govt Army, KIA Trade Accusations as Conflict Hots Up

  1. Burma will be on fire as it starts burning from Kachin State. UNFC will join fellow member, KIO. I believe this is what the current junta wants to see in Burma.

  2. There is no way the KIA will ignite the trigger first! The Burmese army is always playing a trick. One good thing out of the amidst the conflict is the Chinese interest in peace. Only if the Chinese gov interferes then the Burmese army is likely to stop the war. I think, the Kachin in China should promote more protest against the war.
    Moreover, the Burmese Christian across the world should launch solidarity and prayer meeting for peace in Kachin State and the whole Burma, too. I heard, Indiana China and Kachin church did last Sunday. Christians must closer to God in times of trouble.

  3. Than shwe and thein sein are playing the game with China and USA, like Aung san did with Japan and Brtish alternately. Idiot China is now worried about anti-Chinese atmosphere in Burma. US is listening popular DASSK’s suggestion how to make worry Chinese more and more with the help of US (offering military training, apart from sanction). Becasue there is no strong vocie from US anymore on lair bama military government on Kachin issue. I am concened that Than shwe is making use of DASSK for getting favor of US side on than shwe. In fact, bama military thugs’ administration task can be done in Nay-pyi-daw instead of Kachin land. Tell us more about the what kind of administration task is necessary to do in kachin land ( ie selling Kachin land, property and natural resources).

  4. Uneasy Union,

    We cannot understand the civil wars fought bitterly between the brave Kachin fighters and the barbaric Burma army in northern Burma today without realizing the political history of the Kachin and without understanding why they voluntarily joined the union of modern Burma. Let us thus look closely at Kachin political history. The Kachin were never ever subjugated by the Burman kings historically, and the British conquered both of them at different times and also ruled them separately. Whereas the British forces subjugated the entire Burma on January 1, 1886, they conquered the Kachin only in 1898. More than that, the Kachin were administered separately from the plains of Burma. Even during World War II, the Kachin joined the allied forces and fought against the Japanese, and the Burman joined the Japanese force and fought against the allied forces, denoting there is no question that the Kachin were an independent sovereign nation until 1948 when they voluntarily joined the union of modern Burma after the signing of the historic Panglong agreement in 1947, at the heart of which was self-determination, federal democratic system, and ethnic equality between the Burman and the Kachin.

    When they voluntarily joined the federal union of Burma in 1948, the Kachin were thus promised the right to exercise political authority in the form of administrative, judiciary, and legislative powers in their own autonomous state and to preserve and protect their ethnic language, culture, and religion, in exchange for voluntarily joining the Burman in forming the union of Burma. Aung San, whose charismatic leadership and honesty won the trust of the Kachin, was unfortunately assassinated, and U Nu, his successor, had never materialized the key promises and agreements made between the sides at Panglong, resulted in terrible civil wars, which led to the repulsive militarization of the country for over half a century. The Kachin were, thus, betrayed and denied the rights to self-determination, federalism, and equality, and their three small areas were also handed over to the Chinese without their consent, deepening ethnic division between the Kachin and the Burman.

    Summarizing all, when the Burman broke all promises and agreements made at Panglong, betrayed the Kachin, handed over parts of their homeland to the Chinese, and made Buddhism the state religion, the Kachin were left with no option but to begin an armed revolution against Burma regime to reclaim their lost freedom and rights. In 1961, they, thus, eventually formed the KIA, which has been fighting against the barbaric Burma army for the protection of the homeland of the Kachin. No question, the KIA shall continue fighting for their homeland and their people as they are entrusted with the historical mandate and national responsibility to protect the homeland of their ancestors.

    It has become increasingly become clear that the union formed in 1948 by the pre-colonial independent countries, including the Kachin, on the basis of federal democratic system, self-determination, and equality, is not easy for the simple reason that the Burman do not want and reject the spirit of the historic Panglong Agreement, the Kachin and other ethnic groups must necessarily claim to secede from the uneasy union, forming rather their own countries.

    We learn from the history of the Jews that they were driven away from their homeland in Palestine by the Romans back in the first century, and the Jews therefore lost the homeland of their ancestors since then, suggesting that the Jews have no place to call “our country” until 1948, when the Jewish State of Israel was formed again after 1900 years. Though the Jews lost their homeland for over 1900 years, they never gave up hope, with dream returning to the spiritual homeland of their ancestors.

    In all, if the Burman do not want and reject the federal union, then the Kachin must claim to secede from the union.

  5. In Salai Mang’s otherwise superb comment there are several inaccuracies, as I understand them. I will not defend U Nu, but the real uprising of the KIA came in 1962, after the Parliamentary constitution was thrown to the wind.

    U Ne Win did not want the formation of the Burma Federal Union, which to him was an abyss for the good of the Union (at least, that is what he said). He had, previously, forced the local rulers (Sawbwas, Duwas, etc.) of the ethnic groups to abandon their leaderships positions, and forced to make it a unitary union in his capacity as care-taker Dictator in 1958-60. In 1962, he usurped and came to power again as a totalitarian ruler. Ethnic armed groups of almost every description rose, and the battle front lines expanded, in addition to those with the BCP and KNDO.

    He was the real culprit for all our present troubles, in all aspects of federalism, nationalism, economy and commerce, education and health, to name but a few. The aim and object of the Tatmadaw was also diverted to his and his general’s advantage, with words sugar-coated to cover real intentions. Conscience was no where to be found. His men forced people to labour at low wages, making worse and worse poor standards of living, education, health, and you-name-what-you-would. And after the big ’88 events, the military was expanded to a four hundred thousand troops (perhaps more, although never filled up), creating top brass posts that include the Senior General. Summary court or in-jail trials and extra-lomg terms of imprisonments (for political offenders), land grabs, forced displacements, forced labour, looting and raping became commonplace in all human habits, the towns, the villages and, particularly, in the far-flung ethnic regions,

    If it were not for U Ne Win and his followers, the federal spirit and theme of the historic Panglong Agreement would have been preserved and served, and ours would now be the Federal Union of Burma (or Myanmar), whichever name you prefer.

    But I would suggest that commentators in these columns please write in view of helping to settle the disputes, not to incite or widen the gaps that would contribute to bigger difficulties in our attempts for reconciliation amongst all ethnic groups. Please remember that we, the Bamas, are not colonizers and exploiters by which term I mean the Bama general public. We understand that a forced union is neither desirable nor possible; the only option left for all of us is a truly federated union conferred upon with individual rights, self-rule and equality.

    Thank you for your permission to differ.

    • Dear PB,

      Thank you for your comment on my lengthy comment, and you have of course the right to disagree with me on the facts I brought as it seems that you only read books written by those who have been picked up by Burma regime to distort the real event taking place in the history of our country. I hope you would agree with me by the way that our other friends and readers have the right to determine which was right and wrong.

      If you read books by celebrated historians, including Dr. Than Tun, you will surely say “Oh.” More than that, I understand from your comment that you attributed all evils to Ne Win whereas I attributed most of the mistakes to U Nu. All historians, including Dr. Than Tun and Dr. Ba Than Win, agree and I also agree with them that the seizure of the state power by Ne Win was the result of the problem created by U Nu, who reversed the 1947 drafted constitution already approved by Gen. Aung San and the Kachin leaders and who then re-wrote a centralized constitution to preserve the pre-eminance of the Burman, and the latter was held responsible for the problem made by the former. I agree with you when you said that Ne Win is to blame, but U Nu is more responsible for the problems. There are many more why U Nu was held responsible for the political crisis in Burma, and you might want to read more books written by historians, such as Dr. Than Tun, Dr. Ba Than Win (Kanbawza Win), and British historians.

      In addition, you even said that the KIA was formed in 1962, which was entirely wrong. Good luck!

    • When you read the article from the Pang Long Agreement, do you find any consistencies with the U Nu Administration or the administrations of military regime from 1962 to today? And, what is your own understanding on the Union System? We know how U Nu betrayed us, and everyone knows how the military regimes rape the Union. Documents from Pang Long Agreement are still available if you want to study and read. Please study whether the Burmans betrayed the ethnics or the ethnics betrayed the Burmans. Or you will find out who really betrayed the Union of Burma.

  6. Who can afford the Peace
    Kachins can not afford the peace as they have to fight for their surviving, no times to think about that. The one who can afford peace is the Burmese Government. If they are willing to stop their troops and withdraw to the safe distance, peace will prevail. Chinese and the International Communities must ask the Burmese Government to bring ceasefire and peace, not only by words but by actions, it needs RIGHT NOW.

  7. Dear Friends,

    Why and how did the civil war mercilessly fought between the KIA and Burma army for over half a century begin in 1961? Who was to be held responsible for the root of the civil wars between the Kachin and Burma army rather than the consequences of the war? Let us turn back to the history.

    Burma is a nation-state of diverse ethnic nations founded in 1947 at the Panglong Conference by pre-colonial independent ethnic nationalities based on equality, suggesting Burma was born of the historic Panglong Agreement signed in 1947 (Sakhong 2003: 152). The British annexed “Burma Proper” in three Anglo-Burmese wars fought in 1824-26, 1852, and 1885. When the last king of Burma, Thibaw, was deposed and forced to leave his kingdom forever, the possessions of the Burman kingdom were transferred to the British. This arrangement did not, nevertheless, include the frontier areas—the Chin, Kachin, Shan, and Karenni, who were completely independent nations and had never been subjugated by the Burman kings. The British separately conquered those ethnic states during a different period of time, and they were under the direct rule of the British governor (Gravers 1999: 25).

    When Burma was to be given independence by the British, ethnic groups were not to be handed over to Burma since neither had the British annexed them as parts of Burma nor had the Burman conquered them historically. They had the full right to be sovereign independent states when the British withdrew its colonial administration. During this critical time, Aung San displayed his ability for charismatic leadership, which eventually won the trust of ethnic groups. He promised them separate status with full autonomy within the federal Union of Burma, active participation at the center within a senate-like body, protection of minority rights, and the rights of secession (Cady 1958: 539). He also promised to form a secular state with unity in diversity and pluralism (Gravers 1999: 41).
    He then promised to make the agreed terms into law as guarantee of their rights for the future state. The negotiation between Aung San and the Chin, Kachin, and Shan was, thus, held at the Panglong Conference in February 1947. He successfully persuaded them to join independent Burma as equal, co-independent partners, and the historic Panglong Agreement was signed on 12 February 1947 (Sakhong 2003: 159). The right of secession was provided for in the 1947 Union Constitution of Burma, Chapter X, Article 201, and 202:
    Chapter (X): The Right of Secession
    201. Save as otherwise expressly provided in this Constitution or in any Acts of Parliament made under section 199, every state shall have the right to secede from the Union in accordance with the condition hereinafter prescribed.
    202. The right of secession shall not be exercised within ten years from the date on which this Constitution comes into operation. (Sakhong 2003: 162)

    Unfortunately, Aung San and the cabinet members were assassinated on 19 July 1947, and U Nu, a conservative Buddhist nationalist, succeeded him as leader of the Anti-Fascist People’s League (AFPFL). U Nu ordered Chan Htun to re-draft Aung San’s version of the union constitution, which had already been approved by the AFPFL convention in May 1947. Htun’s version of the union constitution was promulgated by the constituent assembly of the interim government of Burma in September 1947. The fate of ethnic groups had, thus, changed dramatically between July and September 1947 (Sakhong 2003: 163), and ethnic groups deeply felt betrayed.

    In 1961, U Nu, who was obsessed with theocracy, attempted to make Buddhism the state religion in a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, and multi-religious Burma. Why did he take such moves to undertake state religion reform in Burma? Burman history tells us that the royal court placed emphasis on elite control of manpower as well as on the role of the monarch as patron of Buddhism (Myint-U 2001: 247). The concept of the state as patron of religion has been and still is deeply embedded in the mind of the successive Burman leaders. For ethnic groups, the promulgation of Buddhism as the state religion of Burma in 1961 was the greatest violation of the Panglong Agreement in which Aung San and ethnic leaders agreed to form a democratic federal state on the basis of equality. Ethnic groups, thus, viewed the passage of the state religion bill not only as a religious issue but also as a constitutional problem and violation of ethnic minority rights (Sakhong 2003: 164).
    The state religion reform was, hence, bitterly met with two reactions from ethnic groups. The first reaction came from more radical groups who opted for an armed resistance against the central government for the sake of gaining their political autonomy, self-determination, and ethnic equality. The Kachin began an armed revolution, Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in 1961, and one reason for this was that the Christian Kachin saw the proposal for Buddhism to be made the state religion as further evidence of the Burmanization of the country (Gravers 1999: 57). Similarly, the Chin started an armed rebellion, Chin National Liberation Army (CNLA) against the junta in 1964 in reaction to the state religion edict. The Chin rebellion, led by Hrang Nawl, was directly connected to this event, but the uprising was delayed until 1964 due to tactical problems (Sakhong 2003: 164).

    The second reaction came from more moderate groups, who opted for constitutional means to solve their problems, rather than armed rebellion. Sao Shwe Thaike, a prominent Shan Sawbwa and the first elected President of Burma, opposed the state religion bill because he, though a devout Buddhist, saw it as a violation of the Panglong Agreement, which secured the principle of a secular state and religious freedom. As the President of the Supreme Council of United Hills People, he invited leaders of ethnic groups to Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State, to discuss the constitutional problems with 226 ethnic leaders attending the Taunggyi Conference in 1961 (Sakhong 2003: 164).

    In response to the legal demands of the Taunggyi Conference, U Nu invited political leaders and intellectuals from Burman and other ethnic groups to discuss the issue of federalism and the problems of ethnic groups with a view to finding a peaceful solution. The meeting began on 24 February 1962 in Rangoon while the parliament was also meeting in regular session. Before the meeting was concluded, General Ne Win seized state power on 2 March, arresting U Nu, elected cabinet members, and all ethnic participants, dissolving the parliament, suspending the constitution, and ending all the debates on federal issues (Sakhong 2003: 167).

    I hope PB might be convinced that the KIA began the revolution in 1961 before Ne Win seized the state power in 1962.

  8. Very helpful updates on Myanmar’s ongoing situation.

  9. For Salai Mang and friends,

    Perhaps you are more conversant with recently written history than I. No argument there.
    But, U Nu was popularly elected in a fledgling democracy. No doubt he was incapable of administering our new nation in a truly democratic manner with insightful thoughts of secularism. But that does not mean that there should have occurred a take-over by the military. U Nu would be unseated in due course as and when the public saw his weaknesses and the strength of secular administration. Perhaps that would need some time, but dictatorship is no alternative to a democratically elected government. I was 18 when he made Buddhism the State Religion; I knew then and there that it was wrong (I am a Buddhist, for your info). And I have said so to my parents and friends, some of whom disagreed.

    So, for all U Nu’s failures (that included falling out with political partners, not being able to read the wild, uncivil mindset of the generals), at least, he was in earnest talks with the ethnic leaders for “true” federalism, when,suddenly, Ne Win and his generals staged a coup d’ tat, fearful that the noble idea of Federalism might come into being. (Again that “fear” was only a hoax: the real thing was acquisition of total political power that would pave the way for absolute supremacy of militarism. As a matter of fact, the Burmese Way to Socialism was also a hoax, a civilian camouflage for total military rule.)
    And so, here we are!!!

    For Ninghrin Magam,

    Dear Magam,

    What the kachins or the entire nation cannot afford is WAR: it has already cost too much in both material and human terms. I will not elaborate, for if you are in Burma, particularly in Kachin State, then you would see the miseries caused by war to your people.

    But yes, you are right in saying that the government plays the most important and crucial role in working out for PEACE. It can stop the fighting any time it wants to. But it seems the army is not quite willing. There is mistrust both ways. We have got to make both sides see this senseless thought of MISTRUST is the root cause of all our troubles i.e. if we exclude the desire for military supremacy. If they are not genuine peace seekers as they say they are, then we will have to work harder, and harder, to achieve our cause for PEACE.

    PEACE is what we all must strive for, cost what it will, but it won’t be in terms of lives and limbs and mental injuries. So, please work for something akin to the PangLong Conference and try to achieve DURABLE PEACE, instead of the more emotional “nationalism” and more costly arms, more valuable lives and limbs down the drain. You, perhaps in your own small way as I do, would have done a great noble task, good for your own people in particular, and the other ethnic groups in general. We have been paying too much for WAR.

    May PEACE prevail with the Kachins and with every other individual!!!

    • Dear P B,

      Again, thank you for your response to my earlier response, and you are older than me by almost 40 years. I well understand from the wording of your consistent, responsible, and reasonable comment that you obviously accept the fact that U Nu failed to lead the country in accordance with the dream of the founding fathers of the country. When Gandhi was murdered, India had Nehru, who was as great and smart as Gandhi, but when Aung San was murdered, Burma had no a pragmatic figure who was as great and capable as Aung San. Burma was unfortunate in this particular connection.

      I do agree with you when you said that U Nu was a democratically elected leader, and I also agree with you when you said that U Nu was incapable of administering the Union of Burma in line with the principles set by the founding fathers. I call this: U Nu was playing with fire, but he was unable to have extinguished it. So, he was held responsible for the root of the problem.”

      The problem might have been settled very well for the people and the country alike unless Gen. Ne Win seized the state power in 1962. Gen. Ne Win exploited that fire (the unacceptable fault of U Nu) for his hateful purpose, and he, as you rightly stated, seized the state power unnecessarily, eventually turning our country from the state of one of the richest countries in Asia into one of the poorest countries in the world. Ne Win, whom I dubbed evil of the evils, was entirely held responsible ever since 1962 for all evils, which successfully and effectively destroyed our lives and our country all together. His doctrine continues to live in the soul, mind, and body of the successive leaders of Burma army, including Thein Sein.

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