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Ban Ki-moon Highlights the Plight of Kachin People as Fighting Intensifies

By Burma Partnership  •  May 7, 2012

Last week saw the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, visit Burma and become the first overseas dignitary to speak at the Parliament. He also took the time to consult with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein regarding the nascent changes over the last twelve months. While he was full of praise of recent developments it is important not to lose sight the actual situation for most people in Burma. As Naw May Oo Mutraw, a Karen National Union negotiator, pointed out to journalists in Bangkok last week, “The current reform process is not yet irreversible” and yet the “international community displays its excitement beyond measure.”

An issue of grave concern to Ban Ki-moon, and one in which the international community certainly should not be excited about, is the on-going conflict in Kachin State, which he states is “inconsistent with the successful conclusion of ceasefire agreements with all other major groups.” This inconsistency has manifested itself in around 70,000 refugees, numerous cases of rape, forced labor, child soldiers being forcibly recruited, torture, and the burning of villages in Kachin State by the Burma Army.

The conflict, and the resulting human rights violations, does not show signs of abating. While the Kachin Independence Orgnization (KIO) has offered to enter a fourth round of peace talks in Prang Ngawn Village, Loi Je Township, near the Chinese border, the authorities have not responded. This offer was in response to the government’s proposal of a fourth round of peace talks in Myitkyina. The KIO rejected this as Myitkyina is under government control. There is a distinct lack of trust of the Burma Army and a fear that they will ignore government orders not to attack, as they did in December and January.

At the time of the invitation to government-controlled Myitkyina for peace talks, the Burma Army started to become increasingly aggressive and attacks have been increasing since. A Kachin Independence Army (KIA) official told DVB, “They are preparing to attack the KIA base in Laiza….they have reinforced a lot of the troops and sent a lot of artillery but have not attacked yet.” While the Burma Army is preparing for a major and imminent attack on KIA headquarters in Liaza, it has the nerve to blame KIO ‘hard-liners’ for stalling the peace process in the state-run newspaper, New Light of Myanmar.

The real reason why the three-step peace process that the Thein Sein government is attempting to implement is not bringing peace is that it is inherently flawed. This process involves firstly a cease-fire, then development in Kachin State, before thirdly and finally reaching a political settlement. For the KIO, however, this is unacceptable and they only need to point to precedent to prove this. This precedent was articulated in a Kachin Development Network Group (KDNG) report released this week that traced the history of Kachin State’s ‘development’ since the initial ceasefire of 1994. Without a political solution to the underlying problems and grievances, and a focus on economic development, Kachin State saw widespread illegal logging, gold and jade mining, and the construction of huge energy-producing dams. The consequences have been disastrous for the region. Environmentally, widespread pollution of water, diverted rivers and depleted forests have damaged the health of both local wildlife and local people. Socially, land confiscation and the lack of protection for local people have led to a huge increase in drug abuse, prostitution and thus HIV, extreme poverty and higher crime rates. Economically, the benefits of natural resource extraction have gone to Chinese companies, corrupt officials, businessmen and military commanders in Burma.

This is why the KDNG conclude that “the experience in Kachin State is clear. Without a political resolution first, there can be no just or sustainable development of our country.” This is strikingly similar to Ban Ki-moon’s remarks in Parliament this week: “The Kachin people should no longer be denied the opportunity that a ceasefire and a political agreement can bring for peace and development.” For sustainable peace and responsible development to occur, there needs to be a political agreement between the government and the KIO/KIA, and indeed, all of Burma’s ethnic armed groups. By forcing development on a region in which there is no political reconciliation, the consequences, as articulated by KDNG, will be devastating.

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