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Another Year Passes in the War Against the Kachin, the International Community Must Pressure the Burma Government

By Burma Partnership  •  June 16, 2015

concern-IdpsOn 9 June 2015, the latest summit of ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) concluded in Law Khee Lar, Karen State. On the very same day four years ago, Burma Army broke its 17-year-old ceasefire agreement with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and launched a relentless offensive in Kachin and northern Shan State. As EAOs, including the KIA, were reaffirming their unity, organizations around the world displayed solidarity with those suffering from this four year war, calling for conflict to end, and humanitarian aid to be delivered to over 120,000 displaced by this bloody and ruthless war.

Most of those displaced are living in Kachin State, along the China border in Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps, and are suffering from a shortage of essential basic needs, such as food and medicine. This situation has been exacerbated by the Burma Government, which restricts the movement of aid delivery to these camps as they are situated in KIA-controlled areas. With the onset of Dengue and other diseases associated with the upcoming rainy season, delivery of crucial supplies is imperative. Kohn Ja, from the Kachin Women Peace network expanded on the urgency of this crisis, “Not only is there a need for a substantial increase in humanitarian aid, the Government must end its policies of inflicting further suffering on the IDPs who are the most vulnerable; there needs to be a stronger commitment to preserve their dignity.” Adding to this scenario is the reduced aid available to the IDPs from the already inadequate amount of support as local organizations run out of funding.

Meanwhile, as EAOs finished their week of discussions and deliberations over the draft text of the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), they should be applauded for evading the divide and conquer tactics of the Burma Government. The Burma Government does not officially recognize the Arakan Army (AA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the ethnic Kokang, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) as members of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), and while pushing for a ‘nationwide’ ceasefire agreement, the government has simultaneously denied them the opportunity to enter into negotiations on the ceasefire text. But as Nai Hon Tha, the leader of the NCCT, which negotiated the NCA draft text for the EAOs stated, “We stand by the principle of signing the agreement together.” Fighting with the AA and MNDAA erupted this year and although the MNDAA announced a ceasefire effective from 11 June, whether the Burma Army will respect this is highly doubtful according to a source close to the Burma Government.

Moving forward, there is a high level new negotiating team representing the EAOs, led by Padoh Naw Zipporah Sein, vice-chairwoman of Karen National Union (KNU), which will discuss amendments to the draft NCA with the government, as well as the inclusion of the AA, TNLA, and MNDAA. Naturally, the Burma Government is disappointed that ethnic armed organizations interpret the term ‘nationwide’ as meaning inclusive, as opposed to ‘most groups, but not the ones we are still fighting with.’ Hla Maung Shwe of the government body, the Myanmar Peace Center claimed that this development has set back the peace process. However, the peace process must be inclusive, and the ethnic armed organizations must stand in unity and solidarity in order for them to achieve their collective political aspirations – a genuine federal union through a genuine political dialogue – and this is exactly what has happened, proving this to be a positive development rather than a set back.

If groups such as the MNDAA or AA are excluded from the peace process, then in four year’s term we could be reading the same statements, calling for unrestricted humanitarian aid delivery to tens of thousands of IDPs that have had to flee from the guns and airstrikes of the Burma Army, whether in Arakan areas or Kokang areas. Now it is the Kachin communities most in need, next year it could be Arakan. Solidarity groups will continue to call for an end to widespread abuses of human rights, such as extrajudicial killings, torture, forced labour, sexual violence, arbitrary arrests and detentions committed by the Burma Army with total impunity. This is why the peace process must be inclusive of all groups, in order for the NCA to be truly nationwide.

The Burma government must immediately end all restrictions to the delivery of humanitarian aid to those displaced by the war with the KIA. Furthermore, it must undertake actions based on genuine political will that will help to build trust, such as halting all offensives against ethnic armed organizations. The international community must not be duped by the rhetoric surrounding the NCA. It is the political and structural changes that will ensure sustainable peace, which can only be achieved by not rushing into signing a cosmetic, toothless and unsound ceasefire agreement with the Burma Army that has continually broken previous ceasefire accords. The international community and the UN must pressure the Burma Government rather than the EAOs, to engage in a process that will eventually lead to the recognition, protection, and equality of ethnic people’s rights. Otherwise, there will be no end to those requiring the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Photo by: Concern, Care and Contribute to the IDPs NOW

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