Road to Kachin Peace is Long and Rocky, Observers Say

By Saw Yan Naing 15 February 2013

Independent Burma observers expressed concern about the ongoing Kachin conflict at a meeting at Chiang Mai University, Thailand, on Friday and many doubted that the government was committed to achieving peace with the ethnic Kachin rebels any time soon.

Guy Horton, a research fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, said the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) had been singled out as a target by Burma’s military because of the group’s persistent demands for political autonomy through the creation of a federal Kachin State.

According to Horton, Burma’s former military supremo “Than Shwe said in mid-2009 that they [the KIO] don’t agree to our terms. And so, we must fight against them.”

He warned that if Burma’s military would try to crush remaining Kachin rebel strongholds in Laiza and Majayang the war could escalate even further, as the rebels could deploy many more Kachin civilians who had received military training.

“It would be a blood bath if they attack Majayang and Laiza,”Horton said in a conversation on the sidelines of a public forum on the Kachin conflict.

The KIO and the government have been involved in a bloody war in Kachin State since June 2011, when a 17-year-old truce broke down. Since December, the war has escalated as the government deployed heavy artillery and air strikes against the rebels.

The KIO’s headquarters in Laiza, a town on the Burma-China border, was surrounded by late January and on Feb. 4 both sides met in the Chinese city Ruili where they began ceasefire discussions.

The government’s chief peace negotiator Aung Min is due to meet with KIO leaders and the United Nationalities Federal Council—an alliance of Burma’s 11 ethnic militias—in Chiang Mai on Feb.20.

Many of the assembled Burma analysts believed however, that a permanent solution to conflict would remain elusive as the KIO’s political demands—federal autonomy and enshrining ethnic groups’ rights in the Constitution—would be unacceptable to the Burmese government.

“The government wants peace on its own terms only, i.e. basically surrender and accept the 2008 Constitution, which is neither democratic nor federal in character,” said Bertil Lintner, a veteran Swedish journalist and Burma expert.

According to Lintner, the government had made detailed plans to attack the Kachin rebels and reduce their influence in northern Burma. “The current offensive against the KIA … has been planned for a long time. At least half a year, with exercises and drills elsewhere in Burma,” he said.

Ryan Libre, an American photographer who has covered the Kachin conflict, said that despite the recent military gains by the Burmese government the KIO would not be easily defeated, as the rebels could regroup to continue low-intensity guerilla warfare. “I think there will not be an end to the fighting,” he added.