Get­ting Kachin Back

The Myan­mar government is pur­su­ing all op­tions to re­solve the con­flict in the Kachin State. How­ever, the vi­o­lence seems to es­ca­late with each pass­ing day.

Southasia - - Neighbor Myanmar - By Sal­man Pervez

The Myan­mar na­tional army and armed rebels have been fight­ing the Burmese Civil War in five states since 1948. Th­ese states in­clude Kachin, Kayah, Kayin, Rakhine and Shan. The con­flicts have re­sulted in thou­sands of causal­i­ties, dis­plac­ing over a mil­lion civil­ians in the coun­try. Amongst th­ese five con­flict zones, the Kachin State is sig­nif­i­cantly im­por­tant due to its bor­ders with China and In­dia.

The Kachin In­de­pen­dence Move­ment be­came alive in the 1940s when Myan­mar (then Burma) was un­der Bri­tish colo­nial rule. The ob­jec­tive of the Move­ment was to pro­vide rights to the eth­nic groups and mi­nori­ties liv­ing in Myan­mar. The con­flict in­ten­si­fied dur­ing the 1960s when sol­diers from the Burmese army de­fected to the Kachin In­de­pen­dence Army to voice their opin­ions against the government. Kachin en­joyed in­de­pen­dence from the 1960s to the mid-90s with an econ­omy largely funded through smug­gling and nar­cotics.

In 1994, the Myan­mar army seized jade mines from the Kachin forces. Trad­ing in jade stone is a lu- cra­tive busi­ness in Kachin whereby the rebel forces de­mand large sums of money from pri­vate com­pa­nies vis­it­ing Myan­mar to ex­tract min­er­als. The con­flict ended in 1994 when the Kachin In­de­pen­dence Army signed a peace agree­ment with the government of Myan­mar. How­ever, in June 2011 the Myan­mar forces vi­o­lated the cease­fire and at­tacked the Kachin army in Bhamo. The fight­ing re­sumed when the government at­tempted to take con­trol of the ar­eas that come un­der the in­flu­ence of the Kachin In­de­pen­dence Army. An­other cease­fire came into ef­fect in Jan­uary 2013 with the in­ter­ven­tion of Myan­mar’s pres­i­dent Thein Sein, but with spo­radic clashes oc­cur­ring through­out the state.

Bor­der­ing with Kachin is China, which has made ef­forts to bring the Myan­mar army and the Kachin In­de­pen­dence Army at the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. China has in­ten­si­fied its ef­forts to strike a peace deal fear­ing that the Kachin con­flict might spill into Chi­nese ter­ri­tory. As a pre­cau­tion­ary mea­sure, China es­tab­lished a mil­i­tary com­mand of­fice in Na­bang. It has also set up four refugee set­tle-

ment sites with fa­cil­i­ties to ac­com­mo­date nearly 10,000 peo­ple.

Since De­cem­ber 2012, four bombs from Kachin have landed near China’s bor­ders with Myan­mar. Although there were no ca­su­al­ties, the Kachin con­flict is af­fect­ing Myan­mar-China re­la­tions with in­se­cu­ri­ties grow­ing on both sides. China’s for­eign min­istry has ex­pressed con­cerns and dis­sat­is­fac­tion over the is­sue and has de­manded Myan­mar take nec­es­sary steps to avert any cross bor­der vi­o­la­tion. De­spite a stern warn­ing China har­bors a soft cor­ner for Myan­mar be­cause of the Kachin peo­ple liv­ing in China. This eth­nic group, also known as Jingpo, is one of the 56 of­fi­cially rec­og­nized eth­nic­i­ties in China, which dwells in the Yun­nan Province, bor­der­ing the Kachin state.

The Kachin con­flict has es­ca­lated in terms of mag­ni­tude over the last few years, catch­ing the at­ten­tion of the U.S, which closely mon­i­tors the re­gion be­cause of its close prox­im­ity to China. Last Novem­ber, US-Myan­mar re­la­tions re­ceived a boost when Pres­i­dent Barack Obama vis­ited Myan­mar as the first sit­ting U.S Pres­i­dent in his­tory. Even though Obama made his visit when the Myan­mar government and the Kachin rebels were locked in con­flict, the Pres­i­dent re­frained from is­su­ing a state­ment. Crit­ics ar­gue though that Pres­i­dent Obama’s visit may have in­flu­enced Myan­mar’s Pres­i­dent Sein to de­clare a cease­fire. How­ever, in Jan­uary 2013, days be­fore the cease­fire, Myan­mar car­ried out airstrikes against the Kachin rebels, which shocked the U.S and the UN. Such ag­gres­sion can cer­tainly af­fect Myan­mar’s re­la­tions with both China and In­dia, two South Asian coun­tries that en­joy eco­nomic dom­i­nance over the re­gion.

Con­fu­sion came to the sur­face be­tween the U.S and Myan­mar when the former ex­pressed deep con­cern over the Kachin con­flict. Myan­mar’s Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs crit­i­cized the U.S em­bassy’s state­ments, which ap­peared to be sup­port­ing the Kachin In­de­pen­dence Army. China has not in­ter­vened into the Myan­mar con­flict be­cause of its state poli­cies and past fail­ures to lessen ten­sion in con­flict zones. China seeks to play a larger role where its in­flu­ence reaches the en­tire globe rather than to re­main con­fined to South Asia. It seems as if the U.S will have to find a diplo­matic so­lu­tion for Myan­mar as China’s submission to state poli­cies pre­vent it from in­ter­ven­ing into the con­flict. Although China is fast be­com­ing a su­per­power with eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence over South Asia, the U.S is play­ing a lead­ing role in South­east Asia. The U.S government has been a silent wit­ness to the ris­ing con­flict in Myan­mar and its five states. Many po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tors be­lieve that if China raises its con­cern over the is­sue, the U.S will def­i­nitely make an ef­fort in solv­ing the cri­sis.

The Kachin con­flict af­fects South Asia in many ways. Myan­mar can­not af­ford to have sour re­la­tions with China, its strong­est sup­porter in the long run. Fur­ther­more, the con­flict is fu­elling a hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis as tens of thou­sands of civil­ians are leav­ing Kachin and set­tling in rel­a­tively safer parts of Myan­mar or cross­ing into China. The Kachin con­flict also has the po­ten­tial to spill over into As­sam if it grows in mag­ni­tude. If In­dia shows ag­i­ta­tion over the con­flict, Myan­mar will be crammed be­tween two South Asian eco­nomic pow­ers - a sit­u­a­tion which the coun­try ab­so­lutely can­not af­ford.

In 1994, the Myan­mar army seized jade mines from the Kachin forces. Trad­ing in jade stone is a lu­cra­tive busi­ness in Kachin whereby the rebel forces de­mand large sums of money from pri­vate com­pa­nies vis­it­ing Myan­mar to ex­tract min­er­als. The con­flict ended in 1994 when the Kachin In­de­pen­dence Army signed a peace agree­ment with the government of Myan­mar.

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