Govt me­dia of­fen­sive fol­lows deadly at­tack on KIA

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS - Tim McLaugh­lin

The gov­ern­ment has launched a neg­a­tive me­dia of­fen­sive against the Kachin In­de­pen­dence Army, as ten­sions re­main high fol­low­ing an ar­tillery at­tack by gov­ern­ment forces last month.

A bar­rage of re­cent ar­ti­cles in state-con­trolled me­dia de­scribed al­leged forced re­cruit­ment by the KIA, the use of child sol­diers and acts of sex­ual vi­o­lence against civil­ians.

The ar­ti­cles ap­pear to be aimed at dis­cred­it­ing the group, which has gar­nered in­creased pub­lic sym­pa­thy since a Novem­ber 19 at­tack on a train­ing fa­cil­ity. The at­tack killed 23 cadets from four dif­fer­ent armed eth­nic groups who were train­ing at a com­pound out­side Laiza, a KIA strong­hold on the bor­der with China.

The sto­ries have not taken aim at fight­ing be­tween the two groups or lives lost in re­cent skir­mishes, as was common for state-con­trolled me­dia in the past. They have in­stead fo­cussed on civil­ians caught in the con­flict, rather than tac­ti­cal choices, high­light­ing is­sues that could taint the KIA's largely pos­i­tive rep­u­ta­tion.

An ar­ti­cle in state-con­trolled me­dia on De­cem­ber 11 ac­cused the KIA of forcibly re­cruit­ing 36 work­ers from a gold­mine in Shan State in July 2010. The ar­ti­cle said one of the work­ers, iden­ti­fied as Sai Aung Thein, had es­caped on De­cem­ber 8 after be­ing sub­jected to tor­ture and forced labour while serv­ing as a sol­dier with the KIA.

An ear­lier ar­ti­cle on De­cem­ber 8 ac­cused the KIA of forcibly re­cruit­ing hun­dreds of men and women for labour and mil­i­tary support. It said that the group had brought 782 men and 36 women into its ranks against their will. More than 500 had man­aged to es­cape, but some women had been mo­lested by KIA troops while in cus­tody, the ar­ti­cle al­leged.

The ar­ti­cle also said that land mines laid by the KIA had killed 10 peo­ple be­tween Oc­to­ber 2013 and Novem­ber 2014.

All of the ar­ti­cles were pub­lished in the mil­i­tary-con­trolled Myawady news­pa­per be­fore be­ing reprinted in the English-lan­guage daily Global New Light of Myan­mar.

Three days ear­lier on De­cem­ber 5, the Global New Light struck out at the KIA over the al­leged re­cruit­ment of child sol­diers.

An ar­ti­cle said that the group had re­cruited young eth­nic in­di­vid­u­als, but that many had then fled train­ing camps, “due to in­suf­fi­cient food, tor­ture and racial dis­crim­i­na­tion,” adding that “the KIA is try­ing to cap­ture them again.”

The re­port cited un­named youths it said had been forcibly con­scripted and said com­plaints had been filed with the United Na­tions over the in­ci­dent, but did not spec­ify which agency.

A story in the same pub­li­ca­tion on Novem­ber 25, less than a week after the Novem­ber 19 ar­tillery at­tack, ac­cused the KIA of ar­rest­ing a 26-year-old man and forc­ing him to join a KIA bat­tal­ion.

In­for­ma­tion Min­is­ter and pres­i­den­tial spokesper­son U Ye Htut did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment on re­cent cov­er­age of the KIA in state-con­trolled me­dia.

Re­quests for com­ment emailed to the Global New Light of Myan­mar were also not re­turned.

The Tat­madaw and KIA have clashed re­peat­edly since a 17-year cease­fire col­lapsed in 2011.

Last month's at­tack was par­tic­u­larly dev­as­tat­ing due to the num­ber of ca­su­al­ties and armed eth­nic groups af­fected. The Tat­madaw has claimed the in­ci­dent

was an ac­ci­dent, but the at­tack sent trust in the mil­i­tary plum­met­ing at a time when the peace process is frag­ile.

Through­out the re­newed con­flict, the KIA and its po­lit­i­cal wing, the Kachin In­de­pen­dence Or­gan­i­sa­tion, have proved to be far more savvy at han­dling the me­dia than the Tat­madaw.

The group reg­u­larly is­sues press re­leases and has al­lowed many re­porters to embed with its forces. The moves have helped the group craft a favourable im­age with me­dia out­lets. The gov­ern­ment looks to be bent on strip­ping this good­will by pub­li­cally ac­cus­ing the KIA of the types of hu­man rights abuses more read­ily at­trib­uted to its own forces.

The Tat­madaw's me­dia pol­icy, in con­trast, has re­mained staunchly op­posed to me­dia en­gage­ment, with the ex­cep­tion of a few rare in­ter­views by its la­conic Com­man­der-in-Chief, Se­nior Gen­eral Min Aung Hlaing. U Ye Htut has in the past de­fended the Tat­madaw's pol­icy of non-en­gage­ment with the press say­ing that it is a mat­ter of state se­cu­rity.

KIA spokesper­son La Nan flatly re­jected the al­le­ga­tions lev­elled against the group dur­ing the past two weeks.

“We can prove we have no child sol­diers and no forced re­cruit­ment. Any­time, any­one can come and see that,” La Nan said.

He said the ar­ti­cles were the most re­cent at­tempt by the gov­ern­ment to brand the KIA as an or­gan­i­sa­tion that is not gen­uinely in­ter­ested in peace.

“The gov­ern­ment wants to hurt the dig­nity of the eth­nic armed forces. They de­grade the eth­nic armed forces by call­ing them ter­ror­ists,” he said.

“Eth­nic armed forces want di­a­logue and they [the gov­ern­ment] don't want to do it.”

The lat­est ac­cu­sa­tions by the gov­ern­ment have not been in­de­pen­dently ver­i­fied. How­ever, hu­man rights abuses by the KIA in the past have been doc­u­mented by non-gov­ern­ment groups and the United Na­tions.

Last year, To­mas Quin­tana, the UN's then-spe­cial rap­por­teur on hu­man rights in Myan­mar, met rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the KIO to ex­press con­cern over the con­tin­ued re­cruit­ment of child sol­diers.

Wash­ing­ton-based Hu­man Rights Watch has also doc­u­mented the use of child sol­diers by the KIA. In a 2013 re­port the group said the KIA had forcibly re­cruited un­der­age sol­diers and sent them to the front lines for decades.

A KIA of­fi­cial cited in HRW re­port ad­mit­ted the group had child sol­diers in its ranks but said they had joined vol­un­tar­ily rather than be­ing re­cruited and that the group was “try­ing to find so­lu­tions,” to the is­sue.

A monks lights a can­dle in Yan­gon’s Maha Ban­doola Park on Novem­ber 24 in re­mem­brance of the cadets who died dur­ing the at­tack. Photo: Hein Htet

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