Northern Myanmar’s Kachin state has been rocked by ongoing clashes between the government military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), since 2011, when a cease-fire deal collapsed. The KIA, which controls large sections of the state, joined forces with three other ethnic armed groups last November to form the Northern Alliance. The alliance has engaged in hostilities in neighboring northern Shan state in retaliation for government army offensives against its soldiers, and fighting in both states has driven thousands of civilians into internally displaced persons camps as well as across the border into China.
The fighting has complicated national de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s efforts to end decades of hostilities between the government armed forces and numerous ethnic militias via the current series of nationwide peace negotiations known as the 21st-Century Panglong Conference.
The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), one of the state’s major parties and the KIA’s political wing, has not yet signed a nationwide cease-fire agreement with the government. And the Union Peace Dialogue Joint Committee (UPDJC), headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, has not allowed the KIO to hold talk regional discussions in advance of the next round of peace talks.
During a visit to a refugee camp in Kachin state’s Waingmaw township on Tuesday, Aung San Suu Kyi said that the internally displaced persons living there will be able to return to their homes only when all stakeholders work together in pursuit of ethnic peace.
On Wednesday, Aung Moe Myint, a reporter with RFA’s Myanmar Service, spoke with General Gwan Maw, vice chairman of the KIO, about Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to Kachin state. What follows is an edited version of their conversation.
RFA: Were you satisfied with the meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and the Kachin people?
Gwan Maw: I was satisfied to see the way they were talking in the meeting. They were talking in a friendly, warm, and open manner.
RFA: You posted on Facebook that you are dissatisfied with the NCA. Why?
Gwan Maw: I feel that the messages Aung San Suu Kyi got have been wrong. Actually, what we said is that UNFC [United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of nine ethnic armed groups that did not sign the government’s NCA], including the KIO are still discussing singing the NCA, and we will sign it only if we agree upon its points after both sides talk about it. But what Aung San Suu Kyi said today is that the KIO has already agreed to sign the NCA. It is a question of why and how she got that wrong message. Who sent this message to her? What I meant when I said I was dissatisfied refers to that point.
RFA: What is the KIA’s opinion of Aung San Suu Kyi’s peace process?
Gwan Maw: Although there are some points that we still need to discuss, we understand that she is doing her best for the peace process. The government is doing what it needs to achieve peace as well.
RFA: What are your thoughts about the original Panglong Agreement?
(Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, General Aung San, signed a pact in February 1947 known as the Panglong Agreement to grant autonomy to the Shan, Kachin and Chin ethnic minorities. But his assassination five months later prevented the agreement from reaching fruition, and many ethnic groups took up arms against the central government in wars that then went on for decades.)
Gwan Maw: All the leaders from the ethnic armed groups who signed the Panglong Agreement greatly value its points and promises. Although some ethnic groups [that did not attend the Panglong Conference] did not sign the agreement, we accept that every group at the conference discussed issues concerning the entire country. If someone said the agreements made at the conference can’t be accepted because not every ethnic armed group was there, that would create some differences between our understanding and others' understanding of the essence of the Panglong Agreement. That’s what we feel frustrated about.