Kachins to Mark Anniversary of War

By Lawi Weng 7 June 2012

Hundreds of ethnic Kachin people, both in Burma and abroad, are marking the anniversary of an outbreak in hostilities between the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the Burmese army by holding demonstrations in cities including Canberra and Bangkok.

Kachin activists said the protests are intended to bring to the attention of the international community the horrific record of human rights abuses inflicted on Kachin civilians during the one-year conflict which broke out on June 9 last year, ending the relative peace of a 17-year ceasefire agreement between the two sides.

The Kachin Association of Australia (KAA) has announced plans to hold a demonstration outside the Burmese embassy in the capital, Canberra, on Friday starting at 12 noon.

In the Thai capital, Bangkok, a demonstration took place at the Burmese embassy on Tuesday when activists handed over a petition to an embassy official.

The KAA said that similar protests are being planned for other cities around the world where Kachin communities live, and that the aim is to help end the war and the humanitarian crisis in Kachin State.

Naw San, the general-secretary of the All Kachin Students and Youth Union which coordinated the demonstration in Bangkok, told The Irrawaddy that the fighting in their homeland had resulted in some 70,000 Kachin villagers being displaced from their homes, many of whom were now living as refugees in China.

“We want the international community, the UN and President Thein Sein to know about the human rights situation and to take action,” he said, adding that his organization was holding a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand in Bangkok on Friday to publicize the issue.

In the town of Bhamo in southern Kachin State, an alliance of organizations, including Kachin, Shan and Burman groups, formed a new peace initiative on Wednesday, which they are calling “Peace Forever in Kachin State.”

Naw San said that the newly founded group will hold its first activity on Saturday when they will pray for peace. The majority of ethnic Kachins are Christian.

But many observers say that peace remains a distant prospect in Kachin State despite the fact that many other armed ethnic groups, including the Karen National Union, have signed ceasefire agreements with the Burmese government over the past two years.

The KIO leadership remains defiant, though they have attended several rounds of peace talks with government delegations. In each case, an agreement could not be reached for signing a fresh truce. The KIO maintains it wants a ceasefire, “but not without rights for the Kachin people.”

Kachin activists say that thousands of the affected war refugees cannot get access to humanitarian aid. UN aid agencies have complained that they are being prevented by the Burmese authorities from entering KIO-controlled areas.

A UN convoy of five trucks carrying food and emergency supplies successfully arrived on June 5 at Mae Ja Yang, near the Chinese border, to deliver aid to an estimated 3,000 war refugees.

The UN said it will return on Thursday to Bhamo Township en route to Laiza, a town on the China-Burma border where the KIO maintains its headquarters, and where some 10,000 Kachin refugees are being sheltered.

To date, the UN has provided monthly rations of humanitarian aid to the war refugees in Laiza, but only on a month-to-month basis. Local Kachin groups have asked the UN to provide a store of additional aid in case it is prevented from returning in the coming months.

“We proposed to the UN that it consider providing extra months’ aid for the refugees,” said Samang Kada Doi Pyi Sa, the chairman of the IDPs and Refugees Relief Committee (IRRC). “They told us they will discuss it with higher officials.”

The IRRC said it is only able to provide food to those in need for about 15 days a month, and that many of the refugees and IDPs are simply borrowing, begging or living on a hand-to-mouth basis.