Kachin Rebels Suspend Monthly Meetings With Burma Army

By Lawi Weng 10 December 2014

RANGOON — The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) said it has decided to cancel its monthly meetings with local Burma Army commanders in the Kachin State capital Myitkyina, as the government and army have made no effort to properly explain its deadly surprise attack on a KIA training school last month.

The Central Committee of the Kachin Independence Organization, which is the KIA’s political wing, recently decided to suspend the meetings between local KIA and army commanders, said a captain with the KIO Technical Advisory Team based in Myitkyina.

“The troops that shot and killed our troops were under control and command from [army headquarters in] Naypyidaw. [So] we are asking the union government to solve this problem. But we found that the union government still did not solve it. This is why we decided not to have a monthly meeting with them in December,” said the officer, who declined to be named as he was unauthorized to speak to the media.

“Our meetings are held with the aim of reducing conflict and preventing future conflict, but they shot and killed our troops even though we have ongoing meetings,” he added.

On Nov. 19, the Burma Army fired a number of artillery rounds into the grounds of a KIA training camp where dozens of young cadets were exercising. The surprise attack injured more than a dozen cadets and killed 23, most of them from rebel groups allied to the KIA, such as the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Arakan Army.

“We postponed the monthly meeting with them [the Burma Army] because the current problem is big and the local senior army commanders who are on the ground could not talk to solve this problem,” said Lamai Gum Ja, a spokesperson from the KIO Technical Advisory Team.

He said the Myitkyina meetings could resume if the issue of the attack is sufficiently addressed at an upcoming high-level meeting between the government ceasefire team of Minister Aung Min and the National Ceasefire Coordination Team, which represents an alliance of 16 ethnic armed groups, including the KIA.

“We are waiting to see the future result of the meeting… we hope this problem will be solved,” said Lamai Gum Ja, referring to the high-level meeting scheduled in the days before Christmas.

Hla Maung Shwe, an advisor at the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center, said he was not surprised by the KIA’s decision to postpone monthly meetings with the army, saying that the group wanted to raise the issue of the attack at the highest government level first during the upcoming meeting.

“U Aung Min has prepared a reply to their questions about the case [of the training school attack] at the upcoming meeting,” he said. “Postponing the monthly meeting, I think, will not affect the peace talks.”

Tensions in northern Burma have risen since the attack. The nationwide ceasefire process has suffered a setback as trust between the ethnic armed groups and the government and army was shattered. In recent months, the process had already hit a deadlock as differences over key issues, such as political autonomy for ethnic regions, could not be bridged.

After a nominally-civilian government took office in Burma in 2011 it signed bilateral ceasefires with more than a dozen armed groups and initiated a nationwide ceasefire process in mid-2013.

However, the KIA and the TNLA have no bilateral ceasefire and the groups, along with other rebel groups, continue to clash with the army in Kachin and Shan states.

A TNLA officer said clashes between the Burma Army and the allied forces of the TNLA, KIA and ethnic Kokang rebels occurred in recent days in Kutkai Township’s Tarmoenye Sub-Township in northern Shan State.

“Fighting broke out early [Wednesday] morning and it has continued the whole day,” TNLA spokesperson Tar Ban Hla told The Irrawaddy.