Exile Group Declares ‘Independence’ for Kachin State

By Lawi Weng 18 January 2019

The Kachin National Organization (KNO), a Kachin exile group, ended its conference in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand early this week with an announcement declaring Kachin to be an independent country.

Over 200 Kachin community leaders including rights activists and representatives of political parities and literary and cultural organizations attended the three-day conference from Jan. 12-14. The delegates unanimously decided to declare independence for Kachin.

Naw Latt, a spokesperson for the KNO, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that, “When we look at the situation in Kachin State, including political conflicts, armed conflicts and Kachin refugees, we are not happy about it.”

He added: “The central government has not delivered the political rights sought by the Kachin people. The Army has even blocked humanitarian aid to our refugees. We made this decision to announce our independence after analyzing the situation in Kachin State. All representatives at the meeting agreed to declare Kachin an independent country,” he said.

Most ethnic Kachin live in northern Myanmar near the Chinese border. Under British rule before independence, the Kachin were to allowed to govern their own affairs to a large extent.

“We have a history of ruling our own region. Therefore, the Kachin will have no problem establishing our own independent country,” Naw Latt said.

The announcement was met with heavy criticism on Facebook. Kachin residents of Myitkyina reported that Myanmar Army (or Tatmadaw) helicopters could be seen flying above the town and Laiza yesterday. Some locals interpreted this as a sign that the Tatmadaw and government were displeased by the KNO’s announcement.

Gumgrawng Awng Hkam, the chairman of the Kachin Democratic Party (KDP) based in Myitkyina, said his party didn’t attend the meeting in Chiang Mai, but he heard that other Kachin political parties had attended.

“They announced independence. But the KNO was acting on its own authority. Personally, I think they should consult ethnic Kachin residing in Kachin State. They should have held a referendum before announcing this. Then it would have a strong impact,” Gumgrawng Awng Hkam said.

He did not consider Kachin to be independent as a result of the announcement, he said.

The KNO’s use of the word “independence” in its announcement caught the attention many Kachin in the state, according to Gumgrawng Awng Hkam.

Before the country won independence from the British in 1947, Kachin leaders asked the Union government to let them rule their own region as an independence state, but the central government has never allowed that to happen, Gumgrawng Awng Hkam said.

“It is quite natural for the people. They want independence for their region. But there are those who agree with the KNO statement and those who disagree,” he said.

Kachin State did not yet have the structures required for independence, Naw Latt said, though he added that Kachin leaders could learn the necessary procedures from the international community.

In the past, when Shan groups announced independence for Shan State, it prompted the Myanmar government and Army to take action against them.

Instead of taking similar action, Naw Latt said, the government should consider its response to the KNO announcement carefully because the Kachin living in Kachin State itself are suffering. The government needs to find the best solution for the Kachin issue, he said, otherwise, the people will take matters into their own hands.

On his Facebook account, General Gun Maw from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) posted a comment by Khin Zaw Oo, a former Myanmar Army general who serves as the Myanmar Peace Commission’s secretary, in which he asked the KIO for its view on the KNO’s announcement. Gen. Gun Maw responded that Khin Zaw Oo should ask the KNO directly.