Laiza Peace Marchers Greeted by Kachins

By Lawi Weng & Zen Myat Lahpai 20 March 2013

LAIZA — Thousands of ethnic Kachins welcomed dozens of peace activists who arrived in Laiza, the besieged stronghold of Kachin rebels, on Monday evening after walking for 57 days from Rangoon.

Residents of Laiza came out in force as Kachin Independence Army (KIA) fighters lined the streets, forming a welcoming procession that reportedly cost around 60,000 yuan (about US $9,600).

Col Zau Tawng of the KIA said: “We have been following the news about these peace activists, so we knew they were arriving. We have been waiting with great interest.”

Buddhist residents of Laiza said they were encouraged by the arrival of 10 Buddhist monks, who were preparing to give a religious sermon on Wednesday night, residents said.

“We are very happy to have the monks come here to talk,” said Shan Ma, who lives in Laiza, adding that there had been no Buddhist religious events in the town since the start of the fighting.

The conflict in Kachin State has raged since government forces began an offensive in the area in June 2011. The activists made the journey to Laiza to try to end the violence.

The marchers raised a flag bearing a white dove symbolizing peace.

The marchers’ leader, Yan Naing Htun, said: “If we look at how much the people support our movement, this has been a success. The success of our movement has been decided by the people.

“Without having good intentions, we could not walk to Laiza and when we found a lot of people welcoming us, we are very happy about that.”

The activists said many people donated food and money to their cause along the way, even donating 17 million kyat ($19,000) to Kachin refugees.

“I thought we would have many difficulties on this trip, not having enough food sometimes and having to sleep on the street without shelter. There were even people who criticized us for attempting the impossible,” he said.

“But we found lots of support along the way, which gave us hope. We never went without food.”

The government and the KIA recently re-opened peace talks, something the activists say is a positive outcome from their efforts.

“We believed that this is one benefit from our movement,” said Yan Naing Tun.

The activists also thanked the Burmese army, which helped them get to the embattled city, and Armed Forces Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing.