KIO Must Be a Role Model

By Saw Yan Naing 2 November 2012

The failure of peace talks with the ethnic rebel Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) in Ruili upset the Naypyidaw peace team despite an oral agreement for political discussions in the near future.

Sources at the meeting claim that the government delegation, including its head President’s Office Minister Aung Min, was upset as the KIO’s military chief Gen Gun Maw was not present.

Some high-ranking military officials also did not attend the peace talks after hearing of the KIO snub, sending low-ranked officials in their place.

Observers also worry that the government may run out of patience with the KIO and attempt to wipe out the group’s military wing, the Kachin Independence Army, through a full offensive. Instead of focusing on a ceasefire, the KIO delegates kept asking for political dialogue. Aung Min finally agreed.

After the ethnic Wa, the KIO is the strongest ethnic group in military terms and rushed to sign a ceasefire agreement with ex-junta government in 1994, leaving fellow ethnic groups such as the Karen, Shan, Karenni, Mon and others behind.

Soon after the agreement, KIO leaders began focusing on business interests with the government—such as jade mining, timber and border trade with Chinese businessmen. Yet the underlying problem, a political resolution, was never properly addressed.

Some critics say that the ceasefire only benefited the government, Chinese businessmen and a small cabal of top KIO leaders while the livelihoods of ordinary Kachin civilians did not improve. The 1994 ceasefire eventually broke down in June last year.

Perhaps this explains why the KIO is not interested in signing a ceasefire this time. Perhaps they now realize that there cannot be genuine peace without solving underlying political issues such as equal rights, greater freedom and self-determination.

Ethnic sources have also said that the KIO attempted to bring the Naypyidaw peace team to the table for political dialogue with other minority leaders such as Karen, Shan, Karenni, Mon, Chin and others. That discussion must be held under the leadership of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) ethnic alliance, which is chaired by the KIO.

Several ethnic armed groups have recently signed ceasefire deals with the government. However, they remain on shaky ground. The Karen is now facing divisive internal conflict while there are still on-and-off clashes in Shan State despite an official ceasefire agreement with the Shan State Army-South.

The breakdown of the KIO’s 17-year truce has now forced more than 90,000 civilians from their homes and to temporary displacement camps. As the KIO has great past experience dealing with central government, it should act as a pioneer for other ethnic groups in order to end civil wars and bring a permanent peace to Burma. The KIO and the Burmese military must think first about the tens of thousands of women and children suffering from their actions.

The Naypyidaw peace team should be honest with their peacemaking deals in order to earn trust from the KIO and other rebel groups. In addition, all ethnic armies must realize that they are much stronger politically when they speak with one voice. Otherwise, the on-and-off round of ceasefires will be repeated and those who continue to suffer will be society’s weakest.