As War Escalates, Thein Sein Deserves No Peace Prize: Kachin Groups

By Samantha Michaels 4 January 2013

The International Crisis Group has been urged not to award President Thein Sein with its top peace award, in light of escalating conflict in the country’s northernmost state and other recent unrest.

In a letter sent on Friday to ICG President Louise Arbour, Kachin civil society organizations from around the world asked the international anti-conflict group to reconsider its decision to honor Thein Sein at an annual peace award dinner in April.

“Given the worsening war situation in the Kachin area in northern Burma, and the recent brutal crackdowns in Rakhine [Arakan] State and the Letpadaung copper mine, for which the president bears direct responsibility, we feel strongly that it is highly inappropriate to award him with this prestigious peace award at this time,” the 16 civil society organizations from Burma, Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Thailand and India, wrote in the letter.

The letter comes amid an escalating war between the Burmese government army and ethnic minority rebels in northern Kachin State, where about 100,000 people have been displaced since a ceasefire between both sides broke down in June 2011.

Last week the government army began launching air attacks on bases near Kachin rebel headquarters in Laiza, where tens of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) have taken shelter in camps.

Burma’s government military on Wednesday admitted in a television broadcast that it had launched the air attacks, which the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) said were continuing on Thursday, according to the Associated Press.

International aid groups have been denied access to IDPs in Laiza and other rebel-controlled areas of the state.

“The fact that the Thein Sein government has denied humanitarian emergency aid to an estimated 100,000 civilians internally displaced by the conflict … is yet one more reason for the ICG to rescind its decision” about the peace prize, the Kachin civil society organizations wrote in the letter.

Jim Della-Giacoma, the ICG’s Southeast Asia project director, confirmed that the ICG had received the letter but said senior staff members could not give a comment to The Irrawaddy on Friday.

The Brussels-based ICG, a nongovernmental organization working to prevent and resolve conflict, holds its annual In Pursuit of Peace award dinner to “celebrate inspirational figures from government, diplomacy and public policy whose visionary leadership has transformed the lives of millions and brought forth the promise of a world free of conflict,” according to a statement on the group’s website.

Thein Sein is set to receive the honor in April along with former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

“At a time when so much of the world seems to be headed in the wrong direction, Myanmar [Burma] and Brazil stand out as clear examples of presidents working for a better path for their people,” ICG Chair Thomas R. Pickering said in the statement, released in November.

The ICG cited recent reforms undertaken by Thein Sein, including the release of hundreds of political prisoners, the easing of media censorship and the promotion of dialogue with the opposition party, though it also urged the government to address sectarian violence in the country’s western Arakan State and work toward a ceasefire in Kachin State.

“For the first time in almost fifty years, all but one of the ethnic armed groups have signed preliminary ceasefires with the government, and it is hoped that an agreement will also soon be reached with the Kachin Independence Organisation,” it added in the statement, referring to the political organization of Kachins fighting for greater autonomy and basic rights.

Kachin leaders have been meeting with government peace negotiators in recent months, but with no tangible results.

The 16 civil society organizations alleged in their letter on Friday that the government had failed to engage in meaningful political dialogue with Kachin leaders.

“Since the root of Burma’s most pressing problems is the failure of successive majority-Burmese governments to address the needs and aspirations of its non-Burmese ethnic peoples, President Thein Sein’s and his government’s efforts to resolve the Kachin issue by military means will only make real peace harder to achieve in the long run,” they wrote.

“We therefore strongly urge the ICG to revise its award decision in order to avoid besmirching the ICG’s reputation by honoring a president whose government has yet to demonstrate that it is different from its previous brutal and devious military predecessors.”

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