As the year comes to a close, Burma’s Tatamadaw, or armed forces, is moving in for the kill. Its Christmas offensive in Kachin State is reaching a fever pitch, as jet fighters and helicopter gunships blast away at Lajayang, a strategically important outpost just 11 km from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) stronghold of Laiza.
A year and a half into the conflict in Burma’s northernmost state, the country’s military shows no signs of relenting in its efforts to crush the KIA, the last major ethnic armed group to engage in combat with government forces. Rather than letting peace negotiators bring the fighting to an end as they have elsewhere, the Tatmadaw appears determined to settle matters its own way, through brute force.
So far, no casualties have been reported in Friday’s blitzkrieg, although the numbers of dead and wounded will surely be high when they come in. No doubt this will satisfy some in the Tatmadaw, who will see it as fit retaliation for the heavy casualties reportedly suffered by Burmese soldiers in ground clashes. But no amount of killing will ever even the score in this senseless war, which has left around 100,000 civilians homeless and forced countless others to live in fear for their lives or those of their loved ones.
No one who really knows Burma is under any illusion that the recent detente between the military-dominated government and the democratic opposition has ushered in a new era of lasting peace. Despite the progress the country has made over the past year, many potential flashpoints remain, as the tragic events in Arakan State since this June have demonstrated. The Burmese military is wrong to believe that the tenuous peace in other parts of Burma has given it a free hand to handle the Kachin conflict as it pleases. All it is doing is fanning the flames of ethnic resentment, and making real peace harder to achieve in the long run.
On Wednesday, President Thein Sein chastised Burma’s government for its continuing corruption. It’s all well and good to tell civilian administrators that they shouldn’t take bribes or pilfer public funds, but until the president can bring the Tatmadaw to heel, his words will ring hollow.
Burma faces many challenges in the years ahead, but it must not forget that the root of all its problems has been its failure to address the needs and aspirations of its ethnic peoples. Burma has had more than half a century of forced “unity,” and will remain at war with itself for decades to come unless the Tatmadaw is called back to the barracks and the government begins taking its own job much more seriously.