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Myanmar’s ‘invisible war’ on the Kachin

  • Published at 04:55 pm May 14th, 2018
  • Last updated at 05:04 pm May 14th, 2018
Kachin youth protest Yangon
Students take part in a rally demanding peace in the war-torn Kachin state in Yangon, Myanmar, on Sunday. | Reuters

“The government has a purpose. We feel it is … ethnic cleansing,” says a Kachin man

Kachin, a northern Myanmar state rich in natural resources, has been the scene of a long and bloody but less publicized conflict between the government militias and the mainly Christian Kachin minority.

The Kachins, living in the mountains near the Chinese border, were promised equality after the country gained independence from Britain in 1948 but trouble started brewing after the military seized the state power in 1962.

It was then that the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) was formed to defend the land.

But many say the fight has mainly been over the control of the natural resources. Kachin has many lucrative amber and jade mines. The illegal jade export figure is in the billions, reports The Guardian.

Brutal fighting has displaced an estimated 130,000 out of a Kachin population of 1.6 million. Since April, more than 6,800 others have been forced to flee their homes. 

Many have taken refuge in mountains or trapped in jungles while the aid agencies say they are being stopped from providing aid. Blocking aid agencies is a violation of the international humanitarian law.

Political analyst Stella Naw says it is a war where “civilians are being systematically targeted by members of Burma Army” yet the international community “chooses to overlook it.”

Kachin Women’s Association Thailand Joint Secretary San Htoi calls it “an invisible war,” pointing to the recent UN Security Council visit which included only Rakhine state.

The situation has worsened after Aung San Suu Kyi came to power. She had urged the armed rebel groups to sign a ceasefire agreement but the KIA is reluctant as the military continues to bomb the Kachin villages.

“What we are seeing in Kachin state over the past few weeks is wholly unacceptable, and must stop immediately,” Yanghee Lee, the UN’s human rights expert for Myanmar, said last week. “Innocent civilians are being killed and injured, and hundreds of families are now fleeing for their lives.”

David Baulk, a Myanmar human rights specialist at Fortify Rights, said Myanmar’s peace process “is dictated by the Myanmar military at the barrel of a gun.” “It’s the violent pacification of ethnic nationalities,” he added.

The recent attacks on the Kachin have led to a protest movement instead of deterring of dissent. Youth leaders held demonstrations in Yangoon over the weekend to remind those in power that they do not want war. 

San Htoi attributed the recent surge in conflict to a new military strategy: Erase the KIA or force it to sign the ceasefire agreement.

Camps for the internally displaced people are scattered on the outskirts of the neutral city of Myitkyina. One camp leader, U Thein Soe from Taagara Tayettaw, said he believed the war would stop “when one side totally disappears.”

Many young people at the camps are turning to drugs with little hope for their future.

Nhkum Tang Goon, Myitkyina secretary for the anti-drug vigilante group Pat Jasan, described the situation for his people as a “slow genocide.”

“The government has a purpose,” he says. “We feel it is … ethnic cleansing.”

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