Searching for calm in Burma

A recent preliminary meeting between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Myanmar government representatives has raised hopes that the 18-month conflict in northern Myanmar may begin to wind down. Given Chinese interests in seeing the conflict resolved, it is not surprising that the meeting was hosted by the Chinese government. An agreement was made to de-escalate military tensions, establish lines of communication and meet again later this month.

Still, there are concerns that the armies will continue to clash and that future talks, like previous efforts, may not bear fruit. Other minority groups in Myanmar are worried that war could return to their areas. As long as peace remains elusive, economic development in the region will be held back, with negative implications for Myanmar and its neighbours. Fighting has raged in various parts of Kachin state since June 2011. In late December, the Myanmar army began pounding KIA positions from the air. In January, they were able to surround Laiza, the KIA's headquarters and economic centre, forcing the leadership to evacuate. Approximately one lakh Kachin now live in makeshift camps, struggling to live on insufficient rations and medicine. Roads and bridges have been blown up, and trade has been disrupted. Landmines have been laid by both sides and will continue to cause harm long after the fighting ends.

Despite the destruction, the KIA currently enjoys the support of many Kachin who have been radicalised by abuses committed by Myanmar army soldiers against Kachin civilians. The Kachin are also bitter that their political aspirations have gone unrealised. The 1994 ceasefire between the KIA and the former military regime brought a cessation of violence, but the regime refused to consider the KIA's proposal for semi-autonomous ethnic states. The KIA, therefore, resisted integration into the army and in 2010, the military government did not allow a Kachin party with KIA connections to run in the elections.

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