26 September 2011

Four days of heavy fighting in Northern Burma


THE civil war in northern Burma intensified over the last four days as heavy fighting between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) raged across northern Shan State from Friday morning.

The Burmese military reportedly used 17 battalions and an artillery regiment—totaling 1,000 troops in all—to attack KIA strongholds in areas near the towns of Kutkai, Muse, Hseni, Kunglong and Namtu in regions by the Chinese border.

“Intense fighting is still going on and the government is using heavy artillery. We were forced to evacuate some of our controlled areas,” said Col Zau Raw, the military commander of KIA forces in Shan State. He added that more than a 1,000 of his troops have been engaged in defensive guerrilla warfare against government attacks.

The official claimed that the government army has suffered more than 100 casualties while a KIA officer was killed and a few others wounded during the latest fighting. He also revealed that another local armed ethnic group, the Shan State Army, also fought alongside the KIA against the government's military offensive.

The recent fighting has been the most intense since clashes first broke out near the Chinese-built hydropower plants in Bhamo Township, Kachin State, in June which ended a 17-year ceasefire, according to KIA officials.

Efforts by both sides to renew the ceasefire agreement have failed with the government rejecting KIA demands for an all-inclusive political dialogue between ethnic armed groups and Naypyidaw.

The military objective of the offensive remains unclear, but KIA spokesman La Nan believes that the government intends to weaken Kachin forces to get an upper hand in future rounds of negotiations. Full story at The Irrawaddy

22 September 2011

Myitsone Dam Outrage Turns Toward China


Amidst growing tension between the Burmese public and government related to the controversial Myitsone Dam construction project, which is moving ahead despite the possibility of an enormous social and environmental impact, the focus of public anger is apparently shifting towards China.

On Monday, a rumor spread that public protests against the dam project were about to be held in front of the Chinese embassy in Rangoon. Burmese authorities increased security in the area, which apparently foiled the planned protest. But on Tuesday, a Burmese man was arrested for staging a solo protest against the dam project near the Chinese government's cultural office in Rangoon, according to an AFP report.

These incidents reflect what observers say is a growing level of anti-Chinese sentiment in Burma, stemming primarily from major Chinese investments in the country such as the Myitsone Dam project and a strategic oil pipeline being constructed from the Bay of Bengal to Yunnan Province through Central Burma. Each of these investment deals were made by the authoritarian rulers of Burma’s previous junta without taking into account the opinion of the general population.

“This Myitsone project will destroy the flow of the Irrawaddy River and will further intensify the public outrage over it,” said Chan Tun, a former ambassador of Burma to China. “On the other hand, if the Chinese government continues this project, I suspect that it could result in anti-Chinese riots like those in the 1960s in our country.”

China, a staunch defender of the oppressive junta and major arms supplier for the Burmese military, has long been seen as a nemesis by the Burmese public. But the 6,000 mega watt Myitsone Dam, being built on the Irrawaddy River, Burma’s largest and most important waterway, has inflamed anti-Chinese sentiment among the Burmese public more than any issue since 1967, when anti-Chinese riots broke out in Burma. Full story at The Irrawaddy

05 August 2011

Why the hurry to reach a ceasefire?

Saw Yan Naing

TWO months after fighting broke out between Burmese government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), ending a 16-year ceasefire, Naypyidaw is redoubling its efforts to end hostilities in Kachin State, even suggesting that it might be open to nationwide talks aimed at easing ethnic tensions elsewhere in the country.

La Nan, the joint-secretary of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the political wing of the KIA, said that an agreement has not yet been reached, but noted that in the latest round of negotiations, held earlier this week in Lajayang, Kachin State, the government delegation, led by Col Than Aung, seemed uncharacteristically ready to compromise.

Naypyidaw still hasn't agreed to announce a nationwide political dialogue within 15 days of the ceasefire coming into effect, as demanded by the leaders of the KIO, but there has been a notable change in the government's willingness to at least discuss the idea.

In one recent letter, the Burmese government said that it agreed to attempt to reach a temporary ceasefire, to be followed by further dialogue aimed at achieving long-term peace in the country.

“We've never heard this tone from the government before. They've always avoided this sort of thing in the past. But this time, they're not just talking about a ceasefire, but also long-term peace and political dialogue,” said La Nan.

However, it remained unclear why Naypyidaw is suddenly pushing for an early ceasefire with the KIO.

“They seem to be trying to come closer to our position. The way they are speaking now makes us more inclined to accept their call for a ceasefire. But we want to proceed slowly, and they seem to be in a hurry to sign a deal and continue further talks in the future,” said La Nan.

To further encourage the KIO to agree to a ceasefire, Naypyidaw said it would bring 58 witnesses, including Kachin elders from social and religious organizations, to attend the signing of an agreement between the government and the KIO leaders.

However, the sticking point remains the KIO's insistence on a nationwide dialogue that includes other ethnic armies. Under the current agreement proposed by the government, both sides would stop fighting within 48 hours of signing a deal.

Clashes between government and KIA troops first broke out on June 9, after months of tensions over the KIA's refusal to join a proposed Border Guard Force (BGF) established by the Burmese Army.

Almost every other ceasefire ethnic army similarly balked at the BGF proposal, setting the stage for a showdown with the newly installed government formed in March by the winners of last year's heavily rigged election.

Some observers said that Naypyidaw's efforts to avert any worsening of the situation in Kachin State could be related to its bid to assume the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in 2014—a move that would go far toward legitimizing the outcome of the Nov 7 election.

The biggest obstacle to winning the chairmanship is opposition by the regional grouping's Western trade and strategic partners, particularly the US.

In June, the US raised concerns over the renewed violence in Kachin State and other regions of the country and called on Naypyidaw to halt hostilities with ethnic armed groups. It also said the conflicts underscore the need for an inclusive dialogue between the Burmese government and opposition and ethnic minority groups to begin a process of genuine national reconciliation.

Other observers have suggested that the government's sudden eagerness to end the conflict could be a result of its desire to preempt any attempt by the democratic opposition, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, to get involved.

On July 28, three days after a rare meeting with a senior government minister, Suu Kyi sent an open letter to President Thein Sein and leaders of ethnic armed groups calling for a ceasefire and offering to play a role in efforts to achieve a lasting political solution to the country's ethnic divisions.

It was not clear if Suu Kyi and minister Aung Kyi, discussed the situation in Kachin State, but some have suggested that they may have agreed to cooperate on the issue during their talks, adding that Naypyidaw may be prepared to allow Suu Kyi to participate in ceasefire efforts in order to improve its international image.

It seems far more likely, however, that the government is hoping to head off any talk of Suu Kyi's involvement in this highly sensitive matter by resolving it before her offer wins any further support from ethnic armed groups, many of whom say they would welcome her participation.

Zipporah Sein, the general-secretary of the Karen National Union, said that if the government really wanted to achieve ethnic reconciliation with Suu Kyi's help, it would probably succeed.

However, she said she doubted that Naypyidaw is interested in achieving genuine peace.

“If they want a ceasefire, all they have to do is stop attacking ethnic people. Ethnic armed groups don't go into the cities to attack them; they come into the ethnic areas to attack us. If they stopped, there would be peace across the country,” she said.

Some, however, believe that Thein Sein's government is sincere about wanting to bring peace to Burma. Nay Zin Latt, a member of the Burmese president’s political advisory board, told The Irrawaddy that Thein Sein has a plan to end conflict with ethnic armed groups, but it would take a long time to achieve lasting results.

Meanwhile, in Kachin State, the government appears to be keen not to waste any more time.

“I don’t know what they will do if we sign the agreement. But they seem to really want it soon,” said La Nan. -- The Irrawaddy

19 July 2011

UN calls for ‘restraint’ in Burma’s Kachin State

Thomas Maung Shwe

CHIANG MAI: The United Nations is calling for restraint to be exercised in Kachin State as the conflict between the Burmese army and Kachin fighters shows no sign of ending.

“In light of recent significant developments in Myanmar [Burma], the United Nations strongly encourages all stakeholders to make every effort to avoid raising tensions that could damage the prospects of the country’s implementation of its political and economic reforms,” Farhan Haq, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told Mizzima.

Haq was responding to questions from Mizzima about the UN stance on the recent fighting in Kachin State between the Burmese central government and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).

Ban Ki-moon’s spokesperson said in a reply sent on Friday: “The Secretary-General and his special adviser have been following the evolving situation in Myanmar with attention, including recent reports on the activities of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD and on the situation in Kachin State.”

The UN call for restraint from all sides was met with heavy skepticism from Burma opposition activists.

Reached for comment, Mark Farmaner of the Burma campaign UK told Mizzima: “By calling on all stakeholders to avoid raising tensions, Ban Ki-moon appears to be blaming Kachin women for being gang-raped by the Burmese Army, and blaming Aung San Suu Kyi for being threatened by the dictatorship. The statement is a classic example of how the United Nations panders to the dictatorship instead of standing up for its victims.”

According to Farmaner, “Ban Ki-moon says he wants implementation of political reforms, but the main political reform currently being implemented by the dictatorship is enforcing a new Constitution which is plunging the country into civil war, and leading to an escalation in human rights violations which break international law.”

Ban Ki-moon’s UN special envoy to Burma Vijay Nambiar has come under criticism by Burma activists for not being forceful enough with the new Burmese government. Nambiar, who also serves as Ban Ki-moon’s chief of staff, has filled in on an interim basis as special envoy since January 2010 and has only been involved with the Burma file part-time. The UN told Mizzima last month that a full-time replacement will be appointed in “due time,” however the UN has not given a date for when the new appointment will happen. -- Mizzima

18 July 2011

Burmese officials captured by Kachin army

TWO Burmese army officials and three soldiers have been captured by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) following two days of heavy fighting in northern Burma.

At the weekend a key highway linking Bhamo town to the Kachin state capital of Mytikyina was engulfed in a series of fire-fights after a truck carrying Burmese soldiers was stopped by Kachin troops.

The fight continued into Sunday when the KIA captured the five during an ambush. “They were found hiding in a drain after being pinned down in the [16 July] fight,” said a KIA source. “They were three privates and two officials – a sergeant and a captain.”

They are now in the group’s headquarters in Laiza, and no details have been given on their identity.

The capturing of troops has been a common tactic of both sides since heavy fighting broke out in Kachin state in June, but sometimes with grisly results: on 12 June the corpse of a captured KIA solider was returned displaying signs of torture, despite what the group had claimed was an agreement to exchange hostages unharmed.

The KIA claims the five men are being treated well in Laiza, but no independent verification of their condition can be obtained.

Thousands of ethnic Kachin have been forced to flee their homes since the beginning of fighting, which was triggered by the KIA’s refusal to transform into a government-controlled Border Guard Force.

Large areas of Kachin state have also been brought to a standstill – buses are refusing to travel along the Bhamo-Myitkyina highway, and locals report of being stranded away from their homes. -- DVB

15 July 2011

Burma's Vice-President implicated in Kachin massacres


Burma's Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo should be investigated by a United Nations' Commission of Inquiry for his role as regional commander during a series of brutal massacres in Shan State, says the leadership of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

In interviews conducted last week with The Irrawaddy at their military headquarters in Laiza, Kachin State, three of the influential leaders of the KIA—retired Col. James Lum Dung, Brig-Gen Gun Maw, and Col. Zau Raw—laid out detailed reports with maps and photographs that they said proves conclusively that the Burmese army committed atrocities against Kachin soldiers and civilians over the past 10 years.

The first and second of these massacres, according to the KIA, came in 2001 under the watch of Burma's new vice-president who was Northeast Regional Commander at that time.

Asked why evidence of such atrocities had never before been reported, the KIA leaders said that they had not publicized the massacres to avoid destroying the fragile political process during the 17-year ceasefire and while the constitution was being drafted. Full story at The Irrawaddy

14 July 2011

Ethnic leaders present ceasefire proposal to EU


SEVERAL ethnic leaders reported to EU officials about the ongoing conflicts in eastern Burma at a July 9 meeting in Bangkok at which they also called for the EU to broker political dialogue between Burma's government and its ethnic groups.

Leaders of an umbrella group of ethnic parties, the United Nationalities Federation Council (UNFC), told the European delegation that Burmese government forces had attacked the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in northern Burma last month in a bid to protect Naypyidaw's business interests with China, said Nai Hang Thar, the secretary of the UNFC.

Nai Hang Thar, who is also secretary of the New Mon State Party, said the UNFC representatives had told the EU that thousands of refugees have been created as a result of the armed conflict.

“The ethnic leaders requested the EU to help them find solutions to the problems in Burma through political dialogue,” he said.

The KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization, which is a member of the UNFC, has proposed—via the UNFC—a ceasefire to the new government.

“The KIO wants the UNFC to lead peace talks,” said Nai Hang Thar.

According to a KIO draft of a proposed ceasefire agreement, the KIA will only agree to a six-month ceasefire if Naypyidaw commits to a political dialogue in which the UNFC plays a leading role. Full story at The Irrawaddy

13 July 2011

From jailhouse to minefield


BANGKOK: “The soldiers told us if we were alive tomorrow we would be lucky,” said Tun Tun Aung, a prisoner originally from a town near Mandalay who was press-ganged into front-line duty by the Burmese Army along with 29 other convicts from Meiktila prison in December 2010.

He said there were about 1,000 prisoners in Karen State when his group arrived there, whereupon they were divided up into groups to carry bombs for the army. “We were never given food or water,” he said, recounting the arduous daily trek up mountains and through jungle, in the ever-dangerous region where Karen rebels have fought the Burmese Army since 1948.

His story is one of 58 separate accounts by Burmese convicts recorded by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) in a new report, “Dead Men Walking: Convict Porters on the Front Lines in Eastern Burma,” which was released today at a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand. The document, based on accounts given by convict porters who were reportedly coerced into duty but later managed to escape, outlines cases of torture, beatings and summary executions.

Since elections held on Nov 7, 2010, fighting between the Burmese Army and ethnic militias in Karen, Shan and Kachin states, which are home to sizable ethnic minorities, has increased, making it likely that the numbers of convict porters has gone up as the army engages in more fighting with the militias. Full story at The Irrawaddy

12 July 2011

Government compromise needed to avert all-out civil war: KIA


THE phrase “independence for Kachin State” is popular these days among residents of Laiza, the headquarters of the rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA), whose ongoing clashes with government troops continued until Monday, when artillery fire from the Burmese army side reportedly fell on Chinese territory.

Although KIA leaders do not use this phrase and only call for more political rights from the central government, they are now hinting at the inevitability of a major all-out war with the Burmese army, which could eventually force them to separate from Burma, if the Burmese government does not make any move to respond to the KIA's calls for autonomy, which it has been fighting for since 1963.

“We want a true federal state, but if the government uses force to deal with us, we will be unavoidably pushed behind the lines of 1948,” said Brig-Gen Gun Maw, the KIA deputy military chief who is playing the principal role in current discussions with the Burmese government aimed at ending the armed clashes between the two sides

By referring to 1948—the year Burma regained its independence from Britain—he was suggesting that the country could once again be divided into two parts: central Burma, or Burma proper, and the mountainous regions predominantly populated by ethnic minorities such as the Kachin and the Shan, which were administered separately under the British. -- Full story at The Irrawaddy

11 July 2011

Kachins in Malaysia prayed for peace in Burma’s northern Kachin State

MORE than three hundreds of Kachins in Malaysia who are from Burma’s northern Kachin State participated in a mass prayer meeting in Kuala Lumpur on Sunday 10 July 2011. It is learned that the prayer meeting is aimed for peace and security in Kachin State, Burma.

According to La Nu, one of the participants, there has been more than a month old civil war between the Burmese army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Kachin State. “That is why, regardless of our denominations, we Kachins in Malaysia gathered and prayed together for peace and security in Kachin State” said La Nu.

It is also learned that the Kachin communities around the world have been praying for peace and security in Kachin State since the fighting between the Burmese army and the KIA broke out. -- KBG