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13-19 June: Kachin Conflict Highlights Deep-seated Ethnic Concerns and Dire Need for a Commission of Inquiry

June 20, 2011

Yesterday, democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi celebrated her birthday in freedom for the first time in 7 years. However, her 66th birthday was marked by ongoing conflict between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Burma Army that broke a 17-year ceasefire between the two sides.

During an address at the National League for Democracy (NLD) headquarters, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi stated that there are “sparks of war flying” in Burma. With as many as 10,000 civilians displaced by the ongoing conflict in Kachin State, and documented conflict-related human rights violations, the past week’s conflict has only served to further highlight the failure of the regime to address the needs and concerns of ethnic communities in Burma.

The conflict was allegedly sparked by the Burma Army’s aggressive attempts to protect Chinese development projects near the Sino-Burma border. On 8 June, several Burma Army soldiers entered KIA-controlled territory to gather intelligence, and were arrested by the KIA, who urged regime troops to withdraw. The Burma Army responded with gunfire the following day.

The regime had previously demanded that KIA troops withdraw from the Sang Gang post, located near two Chinese hydropower projects. However, the KIA has refused to move away from the post which is part of their territory, condemning the regime for placing foreign and financial interests above the rights and needs of the local communities. A KIA spokesman, La Nan, claimed that the projects were carried out without consent from the local stakeholders. The electricity is set to be exported to China, without any benefits to the local communities.

“When we approached the Chinese company officials working at these dams, their response is that they already have agreements with Naypyidaw,” said La Nan. “China wants to get resources from Burma. So it seems that their policy is to secure our country’s resources by any means necessary and, in this case, with the connivance of the Burmese authorities.”

The Burma Army has certainly faced immense pressure from the Chinese government to ensure the implementation of the energy projects, despite resistance from the public. During President Thein Sein’s recent visit to Beijing, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao urged the ex-General to provide “the smooth implementation of infrastructure projects, including oil and gas pipelines, hydroelectric power and transportation.”

The regime has since sent a delegation to negotiate with the KIA, but with a lack of documentation or evidence, the KIA were hard-pressed to believe the agreement to be genuine or sincere. “We told them that we would only consider a ceasefire if they could produce evidence of their sincerity,” argued La Nan.

Given the regime’s track record with ethnic communities, the KIA has maintained their stance in the hopes of having “a say in these projects and [to be able to] make sure that the revenue from these dams benefits Kachin people too,” said La Nan. However, the KIA official noted that the civilians were the “real victims of war,” and maintained that the KIA would conduct military attacks in areas only to “destroy bridges to deter the Burmese army tanks coming in.”

Local civilians have certainly faced the brunt of the conflict, with as many as 10,000 displaced and scores of human rights violations committed by Burma Army troops. Kachin Women’s Association Thailand (KWAT) has documented seven incidents of rape by Burma Army troops, with four of the women subsequently murdered. The incidents of rape all occurred in the last month in or around Bhamo district, Kachin State, where Burma Army battalions have been stationed. KWAT has documented incidents of other human rights violations in the conflict area, including abduction and forced labour. With a lack of assistance coming from Chinese authorities and an absence of non-governmental organizations, a local community group has formed in Kachin State to provide much needed assistance. The Kachin National Organization also mobilized to hold worldwide protests on 24 June in solidarity with the Kachin community back home, as well as other ethnic groups facing conflict in their regions, such as in Shan State and in Three Pagodas Pass.

The growing incidents of conflict-related human rights violations throughout Eastern Burma underscores the need for a UN-led Commission of Inquiry into crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma. The regime’s “seven-step roadmap to democracy,” including the sham elections in November 2010, has only served to consolidate their power in ethnic areas and throughout the country. Decades of failing to recognize and respect ethnic rights and the concerns of ethnic communities has sparked these recent incidents of conflict and human rights violations, some of which may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes. A Commission of Inquiry would have a significant preventative value, and would serve to deter further human rights violations and conflict. Failure to investigate makes further abuse inevitable and lasting change impossible.

Speaking to her supporters yesterday, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had only one wish, a wish shared by the people of Burma: “If I were asked what I would wish on my birthday, I wish for peace, stability and prosperity in the country.”

News Highlights

Kachin Independence Army (KIA) destroys bridges to prevent attacks from Burma Army troops; rejects regime’s ceasefire proposal, doubting its sincerity; captures six Burma Army soldiers

30 Chinese workers at Taping hydropower station flee from fighting in Kachin State

China urges restraint; KIA requests Beijing to act as intermediary

See chronology of the conflict in Kachin State here

Inside Burma

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s younger son Kim Aris arrives in Burma for her 66th birthday; celebrations held at the NLD office, throughout the country and around the world

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi sends video messages to Mae Sot and India on her birthday

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi appeals to the International Labour Organisation to expand its activities in Burma (video)

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi visits senior monk prior to the opening of Sitagu International Buddhist Academy where the monk will address the importance of unity in the country

Two Arakan MPs win legal cases that were filed by USDP and are compensated (Burmese)

Ethnic MPs urge regime to hold peace talks with armed ethnic groups

Unknown armed group attacks a gold shop owned by a supporter of the regime in Three Pagoda Pass injuring four people and exchange gunfire with Burma Army, residents relocated and schools closed in fear of second attack

Unknown armed group explodes vehicle in Three Pagoda Pass injuring two hostages

Two gunmen on a motorbike in Three Pagoda Pass open fire on Burma Army soldiers

Regime’s Southeast Command prepares over 500 troops in Moulmein, Mon State

Local authorities order 19 students studying in Rangoon, to return home to Kachin State (Burmese)

Burma Army sends 5 battalions to Wanhai, the new headquarters of Shan State Army – North (SSA-N); SSA-N retreats from base under attack by Burma Army troops

Karen National Libration Army (KNLA) kill eight Burma Army soldiers and wound seven in clash at Kawkreik, Karen State; entire village of Kyainseikgyi flee from fighting between KNLA and Burma Army

Ethnic Nationalities Council decides to cooperate with other ethnic alliances, including the United Nationalities Federal Council

Burma Army seizes machinery they provided to Kayan New Land Party after the group refuses to be transformed into Border Guard Force (Burmese)

More than 150 prisoners from Insein Prison in Rangoon are transported to an unknown location

Burmese remittances services on hold as the country attempts to strengthen currency value

Regime to enforce new tax law in July, experts say it will increase the risk of future economic problems

Burma to launch country’s first state-owned communications satellite


Authorities in Thailand free 54 migrants from Burma who were being held for ransom by traffickers

Thai trade unions claim the government ‘systematically violates international law by failing to protect rights of migrant workers’ from Burma

Australian MPs vote to reject proposed plan to exchange refugees with Malaysia

Vietnamese delegation finishes trip to Burma, signs agreements on key areas of economic cooperation, including aviation, agriculture, finance and mining


US State Department calls on the regime to cease hostilities and begin dialogue with opposition and ethnic nationalities

US Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council said that the US will continue working with its allies at the UN to seek the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry

US Navy intercepts North Korean ship suspected of transporting missiles or other weapons technology to Burma

High-level EU team visits Burma for exploratory talks with the regime and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna visits Burma today; hopes to meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to soon name special envoy to Burma

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is awarded the freedom of the city of Newcastle, UK

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This post is in: Weekly Highlights