Kachin Activists, Monks Begin 2-Month March

By Lawi Weng 22 January 2013

RANGOON—A group of activists and monks have embarked on a peace march from Rangoon to Kachin State, urging the government to stop the fighting between ethnic rebels and the national army in Burma’s northernmost state.

The march, which is expected to take two months, began on Monday morning from Rangoon’s city hall but was delayed after the 15 activists and five monks were stopped by local authorities.

“We plan to walk 30 miles every day, but we couldn’t do that today because the authorities blocked us for a while, so there has been a delay,” Aung Min Naing, one of the activists, told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

Authorities told the marchers they needed to apply for government permission, Aung Min Naing said, adding that the group had already shared their plans with the government’s peace center and ethnic affairs committee.

The activists are calling for an end to the conflict that has raged in Kachin State since a 17-year ceasefire between ethnic rebels and the government broke down in June 2011.

After weeks of heavy fighting this month, President Thein Sein said the government had ordered a ceasefire in the resource-rich northern state, but clashes continued on the ground.

The activists and monks are marching to Laiza, a town near the border with China where tens of thousands of civilians live and have taken shelter in camps for internally displaced persons (IDP). The town has been the target of recent air raids because it is where ethnic rebels from the Kachin Independence Army have established their headquarters.

The government has forbidden international aid groups from accessing the IDP camps in Laiza and other rebel-held areas.

In Rangoon, onlookers gave the marchers food and money for the displaced Kachin civilians.

“This is how they show us that they want to have peace,” Aung Min Naing said. “We’ll keep walking to reach Laiza unless the government puts us in prison.”

The activists reached Pegu Division, on the border with Rangoon Division, on Tuesday but were again restricted by local authorities.

“They told us not to hold up our flags,” said Yan Naing Tun, another activist on the march.

Like many ethnic groups in Burma, the KIA has long fought for basic rights and greater autonomy from the national government, and is calling for political dialogue to discuss a resolution.