Activists Decry MP's Comment on Kachin Conflict

By Nyein Nyein 25 January 2013

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Protesters in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai expressed outrage on Friday at remarks made by a lawmaker from Burma’s ruling party calling for the use of extreme force to bring the conflict in the country’s north to an end.

Activists who gathered in front of the US and Chinese consulates in Chiang Mai on Friday morning to call for international pressure on Burma’s government to end the war in Kachin State said that Hla Swe, an Upper House MP from the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), went too far when he said in Parliament on Thursday that peace could only be achieved by crushing the Kachin rebels.

“We condemn any politician who makes such comments,” protest organizer Seng Zin told The Irrawaddy. “Members of Parliament should work for the good of all ethnic peoples, not just for themselves.”

Hla Swe, a former military commander, reportedly said that Burma should follow the example of the US victory over Japan at the end of the Second World War or Sri Lanka’s defeat of the Tamil Tigers in 2009 if it wants to lay the groundwork for lasting peace in the country.

According to MPs from other parties, other USDP legislators and military appointees (who hold 25 percent of the seats in Burma’s Parliament) appeared to agree with Hla Swe’s views.

Friday’s protests were held to call for a negotiated end to the war in Kachin State, which has raged on for more than a year and a half. The Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which resumed fighting against Burmese government forces in June 2011 after the collapse of a 17-year ceasefire, says it wants greater autonomy for the ethnic Kachin people within a federal system.

The protesters, who included members of other ethnic minorities, such as the Shan and Arakanese, said that the international community should put pressure on Burma’s government to begin a nationwide political dialogue on the ethnic issue and allow aid to reach the tens of thousands of displaced civilians living in camps in KIA territory.

At the Chinese consulate, they also called on China’s government to allow war refugees from Kachin State to cross the border into neighboring Yunnan Province.

The protesters then moved to the US consulate, where they urged the US government to reimpose sanctions on Burma in light of the escalation of the Kachin conflict since late last year, when the Burmese military started using air strikes against targets near the KIA stronghold of Laiza.

“The international community should rethink its easing of sanctions until they [the Burmese government] achieves effective changes in the country,” said Seng Zin.

On Thursday, the US embassy in Rangoon echoed the concerns of observers who say that the conflict appears to be taking a turn for the worse.

In a statement that said the US is “deeply concerned” about the conflict, the embassy said that “Despite the Burmese government’s announcement that a ceasefire was to take effect on Jan. 19, media and NGO reports indicate that the Burmese Army continues a military offensive.”

The statement said that both sides should work to stop fighting and begin a political dialogue.

“The United States strongly opposes the ongoing fighting, which has resulted in civilian casualties and undermined efforts to advance national reconciliation,” the embassy said, adding that the government should also allow the UN to bring aid to camps set up for Kachin civilians caught in the crossfire.