An eye on re­gional af­fairs

Southeast Asia Globe - - Contents - Tom O’Con­nell

Myan­mar’s ‘for­got­ten war’ has been largely eclipsed by the Rohingya con­flict. With me­dia at­ten­tion cen­tred on the plight of Mus­lim mi­nori­ties to the west, the north­ern con­flict over gold and other valuable re­sources rages on, dis­plac­ing “thou­sands of vil­lagers, with­out as much in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion”, says an­a­lyst Eu­gene Mark Min Hui

There was a cease­fire be­tween Myan­mar’s Tat­madaw army and the Kachin In­de­pen­dence Army (KIA) be­tween 1994 and 2011. Why did vi­o­lence flare up again? The Kachin lead­ers felt there was lit­tle to show for the 17-year cease­fire, apart from be­ing side­lined and dis­crim­i­nated against. The Kachin In­de­pen­dence Or­gan­i­sa­tion (KIO), the po­lit­i­cal arm of KIA, was al­lowed no sub­stan­tive in­put in ne­go­ti­a­tions and there was no real dis­cus­sion of eth­nic griev­ances. When the Myan­mar state de­manded that the KIA be turned into a Bor­der Guard Force un­der the par­tial com­mand of the Tat­madaw in 2010, the KIO re­fused and the cease­fire was de­clared void. In June 2011, the KIA openly chal­lenged the Tat­madaw and the con­flict quickly es­ca­lated. The Rohingya cri­sis is get­ting all the at­ten­tion in the press. Does the Kachin con­flict de­serve more press than it is get­ting? The Rohingya con­flict has gar­nered world­wide at­ten­tion be­cause of the in­ter­na­tional refugee cri­sis it has cre­ated. The Kachin con­flict has not gar­nered as much in­ter­na­tional fo­cus as the Rohingya cri­sis be­cause the con­flict there is un­likely to give rise to a sim­i­lar refugee cri­sis. Be­sides, the Kachins are of­fi­cially recog­nised as an eth­nic group by Myan­mar, un­like the Ro­hingyas… The Kachin con­flict ought to be get­ting more press coverage as the in­ter­na­tional fo­cus on the Rohingya cri­sis has al­lowed the Tat­madaw to es­ca­late its cam­paign against the KIA that dis­places thou­sands of vil­lagers, with­out as much in­ter­na­tional con­dem­na­tion. You have writ­ten of Kachin’s “con­flict econ­omy” and the need to shift it to an econ­omy that broadly ben­e­fits Kachin’s peo­ple rather than just a few elite eth­nic and mil­i­tary play­ers. What would this broader econ­omy look like, and how could it be achieved? First, there must be a po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment be­tween the Tat­madaw, the Na­tional League for Democ­racy (NLD) govern­ment and the KIO be­fore there can be talks on broader eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of the area be­yond nat­u­ral re­sources. Rev­enues from nat­u­ral re­sources alone have lim­ited im­pact on poverty re­duc­tion and growth... With nat­u­ral re­sources, elites that con­trol the rev­enue stream be­come rich with lit­tle ef­fort. There is lit­tle in­cen­tive for the in-group to con­sider the rest of the pop­u­la­tion. Re­liance on nat­u­ral re­sources is not a long-term so­lu­tion. So, there must be po­lit­i­cal will to in­vest in other ar­eas that can pro­vide jobs.

Af­ter a 17-year cease­fire, the Tat­madaw and the

KIA again took up arms

- in a fight over gold

Eu­gene Mark Min Hui is a se­nior an­a­lyst at the Mil­i­tary Stud­ies Pro­gramme of the S. Ra­jarat­nam School of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies in Sin­ga­pore

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