KIA Says Myanmar Military Offers Supplies, but No Planning, to Fight COVID-19

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 22 May 2020

YANGON—After accepting a shipment of medical supplies for use in COVID-19 prevention from the Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) on Wednesday, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups, said the military had not yet offered any concrete plans for how to cooperate on fighting the coronavirus on the ground.

The Myanmar military delegation, led by the Tatmadaw’s joint adjutant general, Major General Khun Thant Zaw Htoo, who flew in from Naypyitaw, met the COVID-19 Prevention Committee of the Kachin Independence Organization, the KIA’s political arm, in KIA-controlled Suppa Village in Kachin State on Wednesday.

The KIA delegation was led by its chairman, Sumlut Gun, and vice-chairman, Lieutenant General Gun Maw. Representatives of the Kachin Peace-talk Creation Group (PCG), which brokered the meeting, were also present.

The Myanmar military provided surgical masks, N95 masks, face shields and other personal protective equipment as well as food sent by Myanmar military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, according to a Tatmadaw press release.

“The two sides discussed nothing special at the meeting. They discussed nothing about military or political affairs, but only talked about COVID-19 prevention and control. But they didn’t negotiate any response plans,” said KIA information officer Colonel Naw Bu.

Prior to the meeting, the KIA had complained that the Unlawful Association Act creates a barrier to cooperation between the government and ethnic armed groups in fighting the coronavirus, as Article 17(1) of the colonial-era law has been used to prosecute people accused of being affiliated with or providing support to armed groups fighting government troops.

The KIA has not signed the government’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, but is in negotiations over a bilateral ceasefire.

The two sides did not discuss Article 17(1) at Wednesday’s meeting, Col. Naw Bu said.

In its statement on Wednesday’s meeting, the Myanmar military reported that the KIA said it would seek help from the Tatmadaw to prevent, control and treat COVID-19 as necessary, and expressed hope that cooperation in the fight against COVID-19 would facilitate peace and national unity.

“The Tatmadaw [delegation] said it is ready to help if the KIA needs it. They didn’t discuss details. [The military delegation] said its donations were made in good faith, and that they are ready to help if the KIA needs anything in the future,” said Hsan Awng of the PCG.

The KIA expressed gratitude for the medical supplies and vowed to make effective use of them, and hoped that cooperation over the COVID-19 response would be a step toward peace, he said.

On May 10, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing met leaders of United Wa State Army (UWSA) and National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) at the headquarters of the Tatmadaw’s Triangle Region Command in eastern Shan State. He said the Myanmar military would provide assistance to the armed groups in handling COVID-19 health issues.

As the UWSA and NDAA have implemented some COVID-19 preventative measures with the help of China, the military chief urged them to rely on their own country, and dispatched medical teams to areas controlled by the two groups.

The Myanmar President’s Office in late April formed a committee with representatives of armed groups to contain COVID-19 in rebel-held territories. The committee is headed by the vice chairman of the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC), Dr. Tin Myo Win.

At the instruction of the NRPC, the Kachin State government provided 5.7 million kyats (US$4,000) and surgical masks to the KIA’s COVID-19 control committee to help care for those under quarantine in areas controlled by the armed group.

In an interview with the Myitkyina-based Voice of Malikha News Agency on May 14, Kachin State government director-general U Zaw Zaw said the state government provided the aid at the request of the KIA.

The KIA, however, said it did not ask for help and returned all the aid through the PCG on Monday.

Despite the misunderstanding, the KIA said it and the Myanmar government had agreed in principle to continue their cooperation, including on information exchanges.

The KIA said that since April it had been monitoring checkpoints on the border with China as well as between its territory and areas controlled by the Myanmar government to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. It is requiring all those who enter its territory to undergo a 21-day quarantine.

Around 100,000 civilians live under the KIA, and around 150 people are reportedly in its quarantine centers. Since April, the armed group has been building a hospital in Laiza for COVID-19 patients. It has also negotiated the possibility of obtaining lab test kits from China.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko