Internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Myanmar’s Kachin state will only be able to return to their homes when all stakeholders work together in pursuit of ethnic peace, the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Tuesday during a fact-finding visit to an area refugee camp.
During her first trip to Kachin state since assuming the role of Myanmar’s state counselor, Aung San Suu Kyi traveled to Khatcho village in Waingmaw township and spoke at an IDP camp housing some of the 200 people displaced by hostilities in the area between ethnic rebels and the government army since 2012.
“We can close these IDP (internally displaced person) camps and people can live at their homes only if we attain peace [between ethnic Kachins and majority Burmese],” she told residents of the camp.
“To achieve peace for all ethnic groups, everyone must work to understand and respect one another. The important thing is not to consider others as enemies simply because they don’t share the same ideas with you.”
Aung San Suu Kyi said she visited the camp “to help improve things after observing the situation,” and also oversaw donations of food and clothing to the facility.
The Nobel laureate is leading the country’s efforts to end decades of hostilities between the government armed forces and numerous ethnic armed groups via the 21st-century Panglong Conference held roughly every six months.
Khin Yu Zin, an official at the Khatcho camp, told Aung San Suu Kyi that ethnic Kachin IDPs also want peace in the region and asked the government to help with the resettlement process when hostilities cease and people can return to their homes.
“We want peace, just as much as [ethnic] Burmese want it,” she said.
Khin Yu Zu also praised investments from local nongovernmental organizations and the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement that had allowed some residents of the camp to find work raising livestock and producing amber goods for sale.
Myanmar’s Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Win Myat Aye, who accompanied Aung San Suu Kyi on the trip to Kachin, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that meeting with the Khatcho camp officials had been informative.
“We have been helping this camp and [this time] we discussed how to provide additional support, as well as how to resettle [IDPs],” he said.
“We also discussed on how draw lessons from this experience to support camps we were unable to support before.”
Ahead of her trip to Khatcho village, Aung San Suu Kyi met with representatives of civil society organizations, religious groups and advisors at the Palm Spring Hotel in the state capital Myitkyina and also visited an IDP camp run by the Kachin Baptist Church.
In addition to Myanmar’s Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Minister, she was also accompanied by an entourage that included the country’s Border Affairs and Security Minister, Home Affairs Minister, and the chairman of the National Reconciliation and Peace Center in Yangon.
Earlier this month, sources told RFA that a local militia in Waingmaw had forced more than half of 70 refugee households staying on its land since 2012 to move elsewhere because it needed the acreage for planting crops, deploying bulldozers to destroy their homes and other buildings.
The Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which controls large swathes of northeastern Kachin state, has regularly engaged in hostilities with the Myanmar army since a cease-fire deal collapsed in 2011.
Last November, the KIA teamed up with three other ethnic armed groups—the Arakan Army (AA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA)—to form the Northern Alliance.
The alliance then launched coordinated attacks on 10 government and military targets in three townships in neighboring Shan state and along the105-mile border trade zone between Myanmar and China in retaliation for government army offensives against its soldiers.
Also on Tuesday, AA spokesperson Khine Thukha told RFA that his insurgent group’s 301st Battalion clashed with the government’s 34th Infantry over the weekend in the Chin state town of Paletwa, leaving at least two Myanmar soldiers dead.
“The fight began at around noon on March 26 and lasted for 40 minutes,” he said.
“During the fighting, two government soldiers were killed and some were injured. We confiscated some weapons as well.”
Khine Thukha said the clash, which took place near Chin’s border with the AA’s ome state of Rakhine and around 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Myanmar’s border with Bangladesh, could be a prelude to additional fighting if the government does not pursue political dialogue with his group.
“The AA is still in support of an all-inclusive peace deal [between the government and other ethnic armies in Myanmar], and we feel that political dialogue is extremely important, as the problems we have are based on politics,” the spokesperson said.
“Only when we come to an agreement on politics will the fighting stop,” he said, adding that the signing of a nationwide cease-fire agreement between the government and eight ethnic armies in October 2015 was not enough to secure peace in the country.
Fighting between the AA and Myanmar’s army last year displaced more than 300 people from their homes.
Myanmar’s government under Aung San Suu Kyi is trying to end decades of civil war between various ethnic armed groups and the military and forge peace in the fragmented country.
The government had planned to hold a second round of peace negotiations, known as the 21st-century Panglong Conference, this month. The timetable for the talks has been postponed several times since the meetings began last year.
During a speech in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw on Monday, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the country’s defense forces, said the armed forces will continue to follow the government’s lead in its efforts to forge nationwide peace, while maintaining its six-point principles for peace. The policy requires all ethnic militias that have signed a NCA with the government to abide by Myanmar’s military-drafted 2008 constitution.
The constitution, which was enacted when a military junta ruled the country, guarantees that military officers receive a quarter of the seats in parliament and gives the commander-in-chief control over appointees in the defense, home affairs, and border affairs ministries.
Reported by Kyaw Myo Min, Min Thein Aung and Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.