Myanmar Military Chief Promises to Ease Return of Kachin IDPs

By Nan Lwin 2 December 2020

YANGON—Myanmar military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing promised to help facilitate the return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and promote the peace process during a meeting with Kachin religious leader Rev. Dr. Hkalam Samson in Myitkyina, the Kachin State capital, on Tuesday.

The armed forces chief’s meeting with the Kachin religious leader comes a few weeks after Myanmar’s general election. The move is seen as a way to move forward negotiations on the bilateral agreement between the military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which have stalled, partly due to COVID-19. The KIA has previously told the military that its priority while negotiating a preliminary ceasefire agreement is the safe return of the IDPs.

Amid ongoing discussions with the KIA on a bilateral peace agreement, Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing said the military would help to remove explosives, including unexploded shells and landmines, in areas where IDPs are planning to return.

Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing met representatives of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), including its president, Dr. Hkalam Samson, who is also head of the Kachin Humanitarian Concern Committee, which helps IDPs voluntarily return to their homes.

“The main agenda was to speed up the return of IDPs in areas controlled by both sides,” Dr. Samson told The Irrawaddy.

Since the breakdown of a 17-year ceasefire with the KIA in 2011, more than 100,000 civilians have been displaced. Most of them are in camps or temporary shelters in both government- and KIA-controlled areas.

According to the KBC, about 10,000 IDPs have already returned to their villages in the state, supported by Japan’s Nippon Foundation.

Dr. Samson said the military and KIA needed to collaborate in removing explosives, saying it would boost the peace process.

With the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) having secured another landslide victory on Nov. 8, giving it a mandate to form the next government, there are questions about whether Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing will retire or be appointed vice president by the military representatives in Parliament when he reaches the retirement age, 65, next year.

During the meeting, Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing expressed his willingness to establish peace in Kachin State and admitted that parts of the military-drafted 2008 Constitution needed to be amended, according to Dr. Samson. The reverend added that the military chief called for the peace process to come first.

Dr. Samson said conditions for IDPs were getting worse as international humanitarian aid has declined.

Last year, Lieutenant Colonel Than Htike from the military’s Northern Command, based in Kachin State, filed a lawsuit against Dr. Samson following the latter’s meeting with US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington.

During the meeting, Dr. Samson told Trump there was no religious freedom in Myanmar and that oppression and torture were still common where fighting between ethnic armed organizations and the military continues, despite the supposed return to democracy. The military later dropped the charge without giving an explanation.