Thousands of protestors demanded an end to the violence that plagues northern Myanmar's Kachin state as fighting between government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has intensified over the past few days.
The demonstration in the Kachin capital of Myitkyina on Monday drew an estimated 10,000 people who are seeking an end to the long-running armed conflict and human rights violations in the region.
“Today is the time to solve a political problem by political ways,” protest leader Lonejone Tuu Yaw, told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “Political problems can’t be solved by fighting. If so, the people will suffer more.”
Since renewed fighting broke out between the Burmese military and the KIA in June 2011 more than 10,000 houses, 300 villages, 100 schools, and 60 churches are reported to have been destroyed in Kachin communities, according to the online news website The Irrawaddy.
The government blamed the renewed fighting on the KIA’s conscripts, saying they are extorting money from the local people as it uses landmines to fight Myanmar’s army.
The KIA blames the government for the renewed fighting, saying the army attacked because it wants to clear land in the region.
While the demonstrators are seeking a cease-fire, they also were protesting huge development projects and condemned the rape of ethnic minority women during the on-again, off-again conflict.
“Hundreds of women were raped during the conflict period,” protest leader Nang Pu told RFA. “We are protesting today to stop these things.”
On Saturday, the army reportedly shelled a Kachin village in northern Shan State, killing a two-year-old baby and injuring two children, five and six years old, who were taken to a hospital in nearby China.
The incident helped prompt the protests, and the U.S. ambassador to Myanmar renewed Washington’s push for an inclusive peace process.
Ambassador Scot Marciel recently met with the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the KIA’s civilian arm, in Myitkyina where he reiterated U.S. support for the peace process and the need to bring an end to the fighting in Kachin, northern Shan, and Karen States, according to a message posted on Twitter.
The ambassador also noted the importance of the KIO and the people of Kachin participating fully in dialogue about building a democratic, federal Myanmar.
On Sunday, the embassy released a statement saying the U.S. is “deeply concerned by the ongoing fighting and difficult humanitarian situation in Kachin State.”
The embassy urged a cessation in the fighting that it says “has the potential to undermine the progress and goodwill generated by the recent Union Peace Conference/21st-Century Panglong Conference."
The current government, run by the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, organized the five-day conference that began in August to try to end decades of ethnic separatist civil wars and forge national reconciliation in Myanmar.
Reported and translated by RFA's Myanmar Service. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.