RANGOON — Leaders of the Karen National Union (KNU) and the United Wa State Army (UWSA) say they are concerned that an escalation of fighting in Kachin State could reverse the ongoing peace process between the government and ethnic armed groups.
A delegation from the KNU, one of the oldest ethnic rebel groups in the country, recently met with a delegation from the UWSA, the biggest ethnic armed group in the country. Both groups have signed ceasefire deals with the government.
“We are both concerned about the renewal of conflict in Kachin State. We are not happy because such conflict will reverse the entire process of peace….meaning the country can go back to war,” KNU spokesman Saw Tamula, who joined the delegation led by KNU chairman Saw Mutu Say Poe, told The Irrawaddy on Friday.
“We totally disagree with the renewal of fighting. The conflict needs to be solved through political means,” he added.
In recent weeks, the Burmese army has launched offensive operations in Kachin State’s Mansi Township which have reportedly left about 5,000 people homeless, including 1,000 who have fled across the border into China. They join about 100,000 others who have been displaced by fighting between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Burmese army since 2011.
Top leaders of the 30,000 strong UWSA, including the group’s deputy chief Xiao Minliang and its deputy general secretary Pauk Yuri, attended the meeting with the KNU last week on Saturday in Panghsang, the headquarters of the UWSA on the China-Burma border.
In addition to expressing concerns about ongoing fighting in Kachin State, UWSA leaders reportedly told the KNU delegation that they would not give up their demands for an autonomous state. The UWSA is currently recognized as an autonomous region, but has asked the Burmese government to classify it as its own distinct state.
“They said their region has been isolated for a long time,” Saw Tamula said, adding that the Burmese government had not made efforts to develop the Wa area. “[Burmese dictator] Ne Win never visited the region and never provided any assistance. During the era of the communists, the regime only waged war, but they didn’t build better lives for the people.
“They said they are not demanding an autonomous state to split from the union. They want to manage and build their communities by themselves, but they aren’t talking about secession.”
The KNU delegation also met on Monday with leaders of an ethnic Mongla armed group known as the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), which is 5,000 soldiers strong. The meeting in a Mongla-controlled area of northeastern Shan State was attended by Lin Mingxian (also known as Sai Lin or Sai Leun), a long-time leader of the NDAA.
Leaders of both parties released a joint statement saying that ending ethnic conflicts between the government and non-state armed ethnic groups was key to building peace in Burma.
“The ethnic conflicts should be discussed politically and get solved peacefully. We agreed that there should be dialogue followed by the nationwide ceasefire accord,” said Saw Tamula.
Members of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), an umbrella ethnic organization which represents 16 ethnic armies, held a meeting in Chiang Mai, Thailand, on Monday and Tuesday, where they proposed another round of nationwide ceasefire talks with the government in the last week of May.