Constitution at Heart of Conflict, Says KIA Leader

By Lawi Weng 5 November 2012

A senior military leader of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has played down the importance of recent peace talks with the Burmese government, saying that no real progress will be possible until Burma has a constitution that recognizes the rights of ethnic minorities.

“Every country must have a constitution that allows all of its people to coexist in peace, but [Burma’s] 2008 Constitution does not do this,” said Gen Gun Maw, the KIA’s deputy army chief, in a recent interview with The Irrawaddy.

“All of the problems in this country could be solved if the political system were fixed,” he said from the KIA stronghold of Laiza, near Burma’s border with China.

Gun Maw, who played a leading role in most previous rounds of negotiations with the Burmese government since the breakdown of a ceasefire agreement last year, did not attend the latest talks in Ruili, China, last week.

He said that even if opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi had attended the talks, it wouldn’t have made any difference as long as the current constitution remains in place.

The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the KIA’s political arm, has repeatedly called on the government to begin a political dialogue aimed at resolving longstanding issues, instead of merely calling for the restoration of the former ceasefire.

The Kachin people want equal rights and self-determination, and not just a return to the unstable peace of the past, said Gun Maw.

“No ethnic armed group accepts the government’s idea that the way to turn the ‘temporary peace’ of a ceasefire into a permanent peace is by forming border guard forces [BGF],” said Gun Maw.

In the run up to elections in November 2010, the then military junta tried to force armed groups that had signed ceasefire deals to transform themselves in BGFs under Burmese military command. Most, however, refused, leading to tensions that in some cases erupted into renewed hostilities.

Months after a new quasi-civilian government was formed early last year, the 17-year-old ceasefire in Kachin State finally collapsed, setting off a conflict that has displaced about 75,000 Kachin people since fighting began last June.

Meanwhile, the Burmese government has said that it will invite all ethnic armed groups to a meeting in December to begin talks on how to achieve a lasting peace in the country.

Irrawaddy reporter Nan Thiri Lwin contributed to this article.