Update from Kachin State — the violence continues

In 2010-12, the Burma regime undertook a series of overt measures suggesting they had reformed their oppression of the people of Burma.  Nobel Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, was allowed to travel internationally and series of personal restrictions were removed on the urban population.  Seeking geo-political influence in the region, the US and western nations removed sanctions on Burma, prompting a surge in corporations seeking access to Burma’s natural resources (gems, teak, gas, ports, etc).

Ahead of the international companies, the Regime broke a 17-year cease fire in Kachin State in order to seize territory for the ruling elite’s benefit.  Another 100,000 men, women and children have fled their villages seeking sanctuary in IDP camps, refugee sites and similar locations.  The violence and associated horrific, lethal health conditions now has come to the Kachin as it once was endemic to the Karen.

Recently, the Regime announced a ‘cease-fire’ in Kachin State  yet there are wide-spread reports of military violence.

The following is a letter from a colleague living in Kachin State written on January 25th:

Dear People,

I write to you from northern Kachin State on the border of Burma and China. For days I have listened to sustained heavy mortar and artillery fire from the Burma army as it slowly closes in.

The Kachin are targeted, however, by the Burma army on the basis of what constitutes their identity: their religion and their ethnicity.

The first point that should be made is that there has been no ceasefire and there is no ceasefire . On the morning of Saturday the 19 of January at 6.00 a.m., the time the ceasefire was due to commence according to President Thein Sein’s order, I stepped outside my house to be soon greeted with the sound of mortar and artillery fire.  This was not sporadic small arms fire, but systematic heavy shelling from the Burma army.  It was replicated elsewhere in Kachin State, but only a small fraction of it has been captured and transmitted by the media.

The third point is that in such an eventuality there may be not just a humanitarian disaster, but the infliction of widespread crimes against humanity. The civilians are likely to resist because they have nowhere to flee.  Part of my time here has been spent listening to testimonies of violently displaced Kachin people. They are some of the worst I have heard in all my time in Burma.

One young mother of a seventeen day old baby was reported by her father to have been bayoneted to death: another gang raped to death; another woman was shot in her village while her young son hid watching in a sugar cane field. A woman described her husband being shot in the stomach, then facially grotesquely mutilated.

Effective action must therefore be taken very quickly to avoid repetition of previous disasters. The UN has carried out studies of its failures in Rwanda, Yugoslavia and Sri Lanka and described at least one of them as amounting to “Complicity with evil”.  The same fatal passive complicity may result in a disaster in northern Kachin State. This letter is thus the gravest appeal to the outside world to stop it from happening. This is not a “communal riot” : this is a massive military attack on the Kachin ethnic group which is trying to resist in the limited territory it controls.

The following should therefore be implemented::

1. Appointment of an effective UN envoy, genuinely committed to the principles and articles of The Charter, mandated by the Security Council with the right to unhindered access to all areas of Kachin State and especially to internally displaced people. If the military controlled government refuses access, it could be facilitated by China which is supportive of a ceasefire and does not wish to be flooded with refugees. Some of the most threatened Kachin areas are, it should be noted, adjacent to China;

2. A ceasefire, preferably mandated by the Security Council, supported by the Chinese and US governments, the EU, and relevant UN organs, monitored by an effective UN observer group, should be declared.

3. A just and lasting peace, with the objective of establishing real autonomy within the context of a genuine Federal Union, should be negotiated and implemented, if the so called reform process is to have any validity.

4. A firm reminder to the military controlled government that sanctions were suspended, not cancelled, and in the event of a refusal to implement a ceasefire they will be re-imposed.  If a genocidal attack on civilians occurs an appropriate response will be made.

Guy Horton
School of Oriental and African Studies
University of London
Northern Kachin State
25 January 2013