KIA forced recruitment drive highlights burden placed on villagers
– KIA forced recruitment drive highlights burden placed on villagers
On October 4, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), in a troops recruitment drive which seems to be part of the scheme for territorial and population control, abducted about 60 villagers from Waingmaw Township in Myitkyina district, Kachin State. According to the Myanmar Times, the hostages also included banana farmers and villagers from Sainglaw, Hongtaung and Kaungkha villages, located in Sadone Sub-township of Waingmaw township. The village heads contacted the Kachin State police forces and the Peace Talks Creation Group (PCG) is said to be mediating with KIA for the release of the hostages. Among the 60 hostages, eight villagers were released by KIA on October 7, and 52 are still being held. At present, the eight released are being interrogated at the Tatmadaw base of Sadone, said Police Captain Myo Thura Naung of Kachin State Police Force. Regarding civilians and farmers still detained, he continued.
“We, the police force, could not negotiate with KIA for the release of the villagers. It should be done by the state government. However, we have reported it to the authorities as an extraordinary incident,” he said. For the remaining hostages, their whereabouts remain unknown as of October 8, Police Lieutenant Myo Si Thu from Sadone Police Station said. Of the eight released villagers on October 7, six are said to be Shan, also known as Red Shan, Shanni or Tai-Leng, and the other two are Chinese who are the owners of the banana plantation in the area. The release of the six Shan was due to the intervention of a Buddhist monk with the help of the PCG's U Lamaing Gun Ja. The six were helping the monk at a religious ceremony in the monastery, and according to the monk, the KIA might also like to avoid religious and racial conflict.
The Kachin are mostly Christian, whereas the Shan are Buddhist. After the release of the six Shan by the KIA, Sai San Wai, chairman of the Shan affairs group told Radio Free Asia that even though his main task was to work for the release of the Shan, he was equally concerned for the remaining abductees. He strongly stressed: “We Shan should not be bullied by the might of arms. As a Shan affairs group, although we are concerned with the release of the Shan, we want all hostages to be released. If one is abducted the livelihood of the family becomes difficult. We do not want these abductions or protection money (taxation) asked of us. If we want to live together, these kinds of things should not be done.” The Shan in Kachin State and the KIA have an uneasy relationship, as the Shan are reluctant and unwilling to serve in the KIA and want to be left alone. Shan sources in Kachin State said that hundreds of their people are still forcibly recruited into the KIA ranks. Likewise, on May 22 of this year, about 2,000 ethnic Lisu protested against KIA for forcibly recruiting other
Lisu and trying to extort money from the minority group. Regarding the fate of the remaining abductees, which are said to include Bamar, Arakan and Kachin among others, the opportunity to be released might be quite unlikely, if what U Lamaing Gun Ja said is to be taken into account. He told the media: “When the KIA makes recruitment it is not like just taking the abductees in without questions. Physical and health checks, including whether the recruits are an adult and not under age are investigated. If they are not according to the norms they are released and even if one is fit to serve, he will be released if he is the only son and would cause the family a big hardship in striving for a livelihood.”
It is clear that the government is powerless to stop such recruitment drives, particularly as the KIA is not a signatory of any ceasefire agreement, including the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA). This recruitment and taxation levied on the population, which the people have to comply with are disastrous, but no one is in a position to stop it. Perhaps it is time for all stakeholders to invest more political will and energy to reach a political settlement so that the people's heavy responsibility of having to foot the bill for this decades-long armed conflict could be taken away. Otherwise, we will not be able to end this vicious circle of violence and hatred.
KIA fighter in Kachin State. Photo: Mizzima