RANGOON — Thousands of protesters gathered in the Kachin State capital on Friday to demonstrate against the forcible recruitment of ethnic Taileng people into the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), an armed rebel group representing the ethnic Kachin people.
The KIA has allegedly recruited about 100 Taileng fighters from Mansi Township in recent months, according to Saw Win Htun, secretary of the Mandalay-based Taileng Nationalities Development Party (TNDP).
“During the last two weeks alone, the KIA took 51 men between the ages of 18 and 50 from eight villages,” he told The Irrawaddy, adding that 21 recruits were reportedly released Thursday.
The Taileng, also known in Burma as the Red Shan, are a sub-tribe of the ethnic Shan people. They reside mainly in Kachin State and Sagaing Division.
This week thousands of Taileng people from eight townships in Kachin State, including Mansi, arrived in Myitkyina for the demonstration. They had planned to march to the KIA office but did not receive permission from the police, so they gathered for a peaceful protest at a monastery.
“We were told last night that we would not be allowed to march,” San Wai, a leader of the Shan Tribes Affairs Committee in Myitkyina, said Friday.
He called on Kachin leaders and the Burma government to protect the Taileng people and end forced recruitment into KIA forces.
“We have suffered for four or five decades, as we are afraid of both sides in the conflict,” he said, referring to a long-running war between the KIA and the Burma government army, known as the Tatmadaw.
He accused KIA Brigade 3 of asking village leaders to hand over 200 Taileng people from over a dozen villages to the armed group on Dec. 10. This type of recruitment has long by practiced, he added.
“We dare not speak out because we could be killed or arrested,” he said. “And the Tatmadaw cannot protect us from this.”
The KIA and the Tatmadaw have been fighting since 2011, when a 17-year ceasefire broke down. Both sides have met for peace talks this year and have signed a seven-point agreement to reduce hostilities, but a ceasefire remains elusive.