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The Conflict in Kachin Land

The Kachin people were living between the Burmese and Chinese Kingdoms as if sandwiched between these two powers.Whenever the Burmese kings wanted to cross to China, they had to consult with the Kachin chiefs first.

Living in this buffer zone, the Kachin people controlled this borderland from time immemorial and during the pre-colonial era the Kachin had an off-and-on relationship with the Burmese kings. Sometimes the stronger rulers advanced on Kachin land and conquered some parts of its lowlands. Kachin people had the advantage that they could adapt to the weather and this benefited them as well as the mountain region itself, which was totally under their control. The Burmese soldiers had good weapons, but it was very difficult for them to overcome the natural hindrances.

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The Burmese were very proud of the fact that they had kings while the Kachins, on the other hand, were very aggressive and had never been subjected to any other people, neither Chinese nor Burmese. The British were the first to conquer the Kachin people who were constantly fighting, sometimes fighting internally and sometimes fighting their enemies. During the resistance to the British advances in 1886, no Burmese commanders resisted, but all the Kachin rulers resisted the occupation at that time. The Burmese throne, in the hands of King Thibaw, had been suppessed in 1885 and the British thought that they had thus automatically won the Kachin state, but as soon as they arrived in Kachin land the Kachin chiefs resisted the British to their surprise. Finally the British conquered the Kachin State and others and organized all the ethnic minorities in their lands and created British Burma.
During World War II, the Kachins were sympathizers of the Allied Forces and fought alongside the British while the Burmese spent most of the conflict alongside the Japanese, under the leadership of General Awng San and his Burmese Independence Army (BIA), who invaded Kachin villages and killed many Kachin people accusing them of being the stooges of foreign imperialism. The Allied Forces and the Kachin, the northern Kachin Rangers particularly, in conjunction with some hill peoples expelled all the Japanese, and the Kachin Rangers celebrated the victory festival in Bhamo on March 24-26, 1945. Aung San started the anti-Japanese movement in Rangoon the day after on 27 March. At the Manaw Victory Festival, the Kachin leaders invited Awng San and his anti-fascist people to discuss and agree to join together for independence. And then the Kachins signed the Panglong Agreement with other groups in 1947 and obtained independence from Britain.

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After the death of Aung San, the civil government of U Nu failed to respectfully the agreement. With the 1948 Constitution, the Burmese government manipulated the ethnic minorities by controlling representatives in Parliament. And so, the first uprising occurred in 1949. The uprisings escalated following the declaration of Buddhism (which is not practiced by the Kachin people) as a national religion in 1961 and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) with its military wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), was formed on February 5, 1961. After Ne Win’s coup in 1962, the KIO continued to fight when Ne Win’s dictatorship was succeeded by another incarnation of the military junta in 1988 called the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC). However, being squeezed by redeployed battalions of the rearmed and ever growing Burma Army, and constantly urged to make peace by a civilian population suffering from years of warfare, the KIO chose to enter into a ceasefire with the junta in 1994.

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The ceasefire delivered neither security nor prosperity to the Kachin because with the end of hostilities the Burma Army presence increased considerably, along with allegations of atrocities against the civilian population, including forced labour and rape. Therefore, a renewed armed conflict broke out between Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) on 9 June 2011 after 17 years of cease fire (the Peace agreement) between the two parties. One of the reasons fighting resumed was because of the construction of dams by the Burmese government in partnership with foreign investors without local consultation. These construction areas have been responsible for displacement, environmental degradation and damage to heritage sites in Kachin State. On 30 May 2013, after many failed attempts at dialogue between the two sides, China succeeded in brokering a new agreement. In October 2013, a new preliminary peace agreement was signed, but no ceasefire agreement was reached.
At the end of October, a conference at KIO headquarters in Laiza comprising 17 organizations was held, and led to the creation of the Ethnic Armed Organizations of Burma. It convened to establish a Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team in order to reach an effective ceasefire deal, design policy frameworks for political dialogue, and hold political dialogues. Following the conference, a dialogue was held between the organizations and the government in November.

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However, the second ethnic conference in January 2014 experienced disagreements concerning the strategy of reaching a nationwide ceasefire. One prominent dilemma was deciding whether political dialogue should come before an agreement (as per the views of some armed groups, especially the KIO), or if a ceasefire should be signed before dialogue began. The ninth ceasefire draft was signed at this meeting, but a tenth was established as a work in progress for both the armed organizations and the government. Negotiations aimed at drafting a nationwide ceasefire agreement began in April 2014 at the Myanmar Peace Centre between representatives of various ethnic armed groups and the Burmese government, but the KIA and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) are the only two armed groups that have not yet signed the ceasefire agreement with the government. In late March 2015, government officials and representatives of 16 armed rebel groups signed a draft agreement for a ceasefire at the Myanmar Peace Centre in Yangon.

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The latest round of peace talks held on 24 July between Myanmar’s government and armed ethnic groups ended without finalizing a nationwide peace accord, due to disagreement over the exclusion of six rebel groups and ethnic-proposed amendments. The Union Peace Working Committee (UPWC), the government’s negotiating team, failed to agree on the number of armed ethnic groups to sign the final nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA). The government wants to sign the accord with 15 groups and does not recognize the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the ethnic Kokang’s Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Arakan Army (AA). It also wants to exclude three smaller groups – the Wa National Organization (WNO), the Lahu Army and the Arakan National Council (ANC).
However, the two sides agreed on 10 of the 13 amendments proposed by the ethnic groups. The issues include disarmament, demobilization and reintegration and natural resource management. The government wants a signed peace accord in place by the November 8 general elections, so that Myanmar can move forward with political dialogue. (J.K.)

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