Amid Ongoing Kachin Clashes, President Urged to Stop the Army

By Lawi Weng 21 January 2013

RANGOON — The government should forbid the army from spending any more money on fighting in Kachin State, an ethnic Kachin leader urged President Thein Sein over the weekend, as clashes continued despite the president’s reassurances that he had called for a ceasefire.

At a government-organized event in Rangoon with hundreds of civil society leaders, the Kachin leader said the government’s budget should not fund a war that has claimed civilian lives.

“There are children who are now fatherless, wives who have become widows and women who have lost their lovers in the fighting,” said Nang Raw, program director of the Nyein Foundation, a national NGO based in Kachin State that has participated in peace talks between the government and ethnic groups around the country.

Nang Raw added that if the army wanted to control the area around Laiza, a town on the Chinese border where the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) keeps its headquarters, the government should ensure that civilians were not harmed.

Fighting was ongoing in Burma’s northernmost state over the weekend, with clashes breaking out near at least three rebel positions in Lajayang region, near Laiza, on Saturday, the Associated Press reported, citing a KIA official.

Thein Sein said he had instructed the army not to attack Laiza, where tens of thousands of civilians live and have taken shelter in camps for internally displaced persons.

“The government has already ordered the army not to destroy or seize Laiza. This proves that our army loves peace,” he said at the event on Sunday, at Rangoon’s regional Parliament building.

He said the government would invite the KIO to peace talks.

“We will provide equal rights to the ethnic people, to have a permanent peace in our country,” he said, calling for broader participation in peace efforts.

“It’s not enough for leaders to shake hands with each other and agree on peace,” he said. “It’s important to let normal people add their voice to ensure a permanent peace in the country.”

Since coming to power in 2011, Thein Sein’s administration has signed ceasefires agreements with 10 of the country’s major ethnic armed groups, which are seeking greater autonomy from the national government.

The KIA and the government army have been fighting in the resource-rich Kachin State since an earlier ceasefire between both sides broke down in June 2011.

About 100,000 civilians have been displaced in the fighting, and three civilians were killed during an artillery strike in Laiza last week.

“I will try to work for a nationwide ceasefire, as the other ethnic armed groups have asked, and as we prepare for political dialogue,” Thein Sein said.