US Ambassador Makes First Official Visit to Kachin State

By Nyein Nyein 18 December 2012

The US ambassador to Burma met with local leaders in war-torn Kachin State on Tuesday in a bid to improve aid efforts for displaced refugees there, as fighting between ethnic rebels and government troops continued to escalate.

In his first visit to Burma’s northernmost state since becoming ambassador in July, Derek Mitchell said he wanted to learn how the United States might help refugees in rebel-controlled territory, where Burmese authorities have banned access to foreign aid, according to politicians who met with him on Tuesday.

“Derek Mitchell said he and his delegation came to show us that ethnic groups here have not been forgotten,” said Bauk Ja, a member of the National Democratic Force party and one of three politicians who met with Mitchell on Tuesday.

“But we didn’t have much time to talk about the entire situation in Kachin State, so we focused on the confiscation of farmland and the problem of corrupt officials,” she added.

In Kachin State, where ethnic rebels are fighting with government troops for their basic rights and self-determination, farmland is often seized without compensation by crony businessmen, local authorities and the military, while corrupt immigration officials in border regions take bribes from migrants in exchange for legal documents.

Mitchell, who traveled to a refugee camp in Wai Maw Township after the meeting, also met with regional civil society groups during his visit.

“The ambassador learned about our efforts and asked about the possibility of accessing internally displaced persons [IDP] camps to provide assistance,” said Nshang San Awng, a founding leader of the Peace Talk Creation Group, which is trying to negotiate peace between Kachin leaders and the Burmese government.

The US ambassador arrived in the state capital Myitkyina on Monday. Since becoming America’s top diplomat in Burma five months ago, he has also made several visits to the restive Arakan State in western Burma.

Meanwhile, Bauk Ja said on Tuesday that ethnic rebels from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) reportedly seized control of a police station in Karmine, near Hpakant Township.

“I got a call from Karmine this morning saying the KIA had taken control of the police station, which is next to the government battalion,” she said.

One police officer was killed and three were injured in the early morning attack from 4:15 am to 5:30 am, according to a report on the Facebook page of the Burmese police.

Eighty KIA soldiers launched the attack, the Facebook report said.

Bauk Ja said rebel soldiers released civilian prisoners at the station who had been falsely accused of joining the KIA.

“I was also told that they seized weapons,” she added, saying the number of casualties had not yet been confirmed.

The road to Hpakant, where fighting has been frequent since August, is reportedly closed.

“I heard there was artillery shelling near Hpakant, as the fighting continues on both sides,” said Dr. Manam Tu Ja, a local Kachin politician who also met with Mitchell.

“They should hurry to achieve genuine peace talks,” he added, saying that fighting would continue as long as the Kachin people lacked autonomy and equal rights.

The Kachin Independence Organization, the political group linked to the KIA, has met several times with government negotiators since a 17-year-old ceasefire broke down in June last year, but the meetings have failed to produce tangible results for peace.