Kachin Peace Remains Elusive

By Saw Yan Naing 27 June 2012

Despite some positive results from peace talks between the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the Burmese government, the situation on the ground does not appear to be easing, with conflict ongoing and skirmishes reported in several locations on a near-daily basis.

The KIO said on Wednesday that government troops have launched military offensives this week against Kachin positions close to the group’s headquarters at Laiza on the Sino-Burmese border. Several other flashpoints were reported in northern Shan State where the KIO maintains bases.

“The government troops resumed military activities around our headquarters,” said a KIO spokesperson. “They attacked using artillery and mortar shells.”

High-ranking representatives from both sides have sat several times for negotiations in recent months, the latest round being on June 20 when a government delegation led led by Aung Min met with Kachin Independence Army (KIA) Vice-Chief of Staff Maj-Gen Sumlut Gun Maw in the town of Maijayang in Kachin State.

The upshot of that meeting was a direct order from Naypyidaw to effectively “legitimize” the KIO by informally repealing Article 17/1, which prohibits the association of citizens with illegal organizations.

Kachin mediator Hseng Aung, who was present at the talks, told The Irrawaddy that the KIO delegation had specifically requested that Article 17/1 be revoked at the Maijayang round, and that they had been asked to submit a list of political prisoners they expected to be released as a result of the agreement.

Hseng Aung also said that Aung Min had laid out a map detailing the government’s proposal for the relocation of military bases to sites where both armies would be farther apart.

The KIO said it would study the plan, and proposed reconvening talks at an unspecified time and place in the near future.

But Col James Lum Dau, the KIO deputy chief of foreign affairs, told The Irrawaddy that despite the upbeat mood following the June 20 meeting, clashes have broken out between the sides almost every day, and that the Burmese army is focusing its efforts against KIA Brigades 4 and 5, in northern Shan State and near Laiza, respectively.

James Lum Dau said that a KIA unit ambushed a Burmese army battalion in northern Shan State recently, resulting in at least eight deaths on the government side. He said that, in response, the Burmese army has intensified attacks against not only on KIA positions, but also against Kachin civilians.

“The government troops have shot at farmers working in their paddy fields,” he said. “Two Kachin civilians were killed recently. One was a farmer and one was a Chinese man.”

Fighting between the KIA and the Burmese army resumed on June 19 last year after an 18-year ceasefire. Some 60,000 Kachin villagers have been displaced as a result of the conflict, many of whom are currently taking refuge at camps on the Chinese side of the border.

New York-based Human Rights Watch reported on Tuesday that some 10,000 Kachin refugees in Yunnan Province are at risk of being forced to return to the conflict zone. It urged the Chinese authorities to provide temporary protection to the refugees and permit the United Nations and humanitarian agencies free access to them.

Naypyidaw has recently reported that it has reached peace agreements with 10 ethnic rebel groups, and insists that the KIO is the only major armed ethnic group that hasn’t agreed to a ceasefire.