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Kachin Defense Army (KDA)
Kachin Independence Organization (KIO)

Myanmar's military reportedly suffered heavy casualties in trying to retake a strategic base from an armed ethnic minority group in the northern state of Kachin. An independent media outlet, The Irrawaddy, said the Kachin Independence Army, or KIA, seized the base on 25 March 2021. It said the military launched air attacks over four days and that about 100 soldiers came in two columns to attack the KIA outpost at the base, but that one column withdrew on Tuesday after suffering a heavy defeat. It said the other column clashed with KIA forces on Tuesday night and also suffered heavy casualties.

The Irrawaddy quoted a KIA officer as saying, "almost all the troops in that column have died," and that KIA troops are pursuing the "two or three soldiers" that survived. NHK has sought confirmation by a spokesperson for the State Administration Council, but received no response. The council is the highest decision-making body set up by the military following the country's February 1 coup. KIA fighters supported those protesting the coup. Clashes between the KIA and the military have continued since early March. Observers say the military may launch more powerful retaliation against the KIA.

For groups such as the Kachin Independence Organization, whose armed wing the Kachin Independence Army was involved in the round of fighting in November 2016, agreeing to a peace settlement is tantamount to surrendering.

The Kachin people numbers some two million persons, who live in northernmost Myanmar. While the Kachin army fought bravely against Japan, the Burmese nationalists misread the situation and allied with Japan, hoping to gain independence from Britain. This brought them into conflict with China, Britain, the Kachin and other ethnic groups of northern Myanmar. That history was not easily forgotten.

A tentative peace agreement on May 31, 2013 between Burma's government and Kachin rebels was hailed as a breakthrough after recent intense fighting along the border with China. The pact was one of the last to be reached with armed ethnic groups, raising hopes of a nation-wide peace. But trust is still lacking and some ethnic groups want Britain and the United States involved in future negotiations to guarantee a lasting deal. The peace deal marked the first time Kachin rebels met Burma's government and military in government-held territory. After three days of meetings in Myitkyina, the Kachin state capital, the two sides agreed to work at a cease-fire and repositioning troops to prevent further bloodshed.

Over 100,000 Kachin villagers were displaced since a 17-year cease-fire was broken in June 2011. Each side blames the other for starting the fighting. Most significantly, Burmese authorities agreed to a political process beyond a cease-fire, a key demand of the KIO. Cease-fire agreements in the past do not include political settlement or not even a political discussions. But, this time the government already proclaimed that this discussion doesn't stop short at cease-fire agreement and that will lead to a political dialogue, toward a political settlement.

Signed by General Aung San and representatives from the Kachin, Shan and Chin communities in February 1947, the Panglong agreement promised these groups a fair amount of autonomy over their own affairs in exchange for their support for Burma’s independence. Aung San’s death just months later brought an end to the dream of Panglong, as his successor U Nu never fully implemented the agreement, in particular the promise of local autonomy.

The strongest of the ethnic militias in Kachin State, the Kachin Independence Army, was formed in 1961 to defend the Kachin ethnic homeland from then Burmese, now Myanmar government troops. The KIA ethnic peace group which ceasefired with the government in 1994, its political wing the Kachin Independence Organisation and the Kachin Independence Council (KIC) which governs the region, were not formed from the remnants of the communists – they have always flown a Kachin nationalist flag. In Kachin state, there established some two special regions for the resettlement of Kachin ethnic peace groups after they returned to the government's legal fold in 1994 with the New Democratic Army (NDA-Kachin) in Kachin State Special Region-1 and KIO in Kachin State Special Region-2.

The 2008 new state constitution prescribes that all the armed forces in the union shall be under the command of the Defense Services. In November 2009, two former ethnic peace groups -- New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K) in Kachin State Special Region-1 and Kayinni Nationalities People's Liberation Front (KNPLF) in Kayah State Special Region-2 were re-formed into frontier forces by the government. The NDA-K, led by Sakhone Ting Ying, ceased fire with the government in December 1989, while the KNPLF did so in May 1994. The two peace groups were the first to have been reformed into such border guard forces. The Kachin faction closest to the Myanmar government, the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K), turned itself from a communist militia into a "border guard force" under the aegis of the military government.

The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO coordinated with the government on a transition process of formation of a frontier force under the command of the central government before 2010 general election, official media said on September 14, 2009. "We accept the transition in principle," a Sept. 9 announcement of the KIO was quoted by an approved article of Khaing Myo Nyilar Aung carried in the New Light of Myanmar as saying. This was an obvious attempt to bring the long-term separatist movement closer to integration with the Myanmar central government. According to the KIO announcement, the KIO central committee members held a meeting in Laiza on Sept. 5 with 324 attendees. The announcement said "the government of the Union of Myanmar and KIO strongly oppose armed clashes with a view to making coordination and discussions based on mutual trust at the time of promoting peace". But in November 2010 the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) rejected a proposal from Burma’s military government to become a “border guard force.”

In early 2011 armed conflict erupted in Myanmar’s northern Kachin state over construction of large hydropower dams to supply electricity to China. The Kachin Independence Organization ent a letter to the Chinese government warning that civil war would occur if the construction of the Myitsone Dam on Myanmar’s territory proceeds. Construction continued and the Myanmar forces came to the area. The Kachin Independence Army engaged the government’s army, casualties have occurred and around 10,000 people have fled the area, some going into China.

At the end of 2012, the government had reached preliminary cease-fire agreements with all major armed ethnic groups except the KIA in Kachin State, where armed conflict continued in 2012 and escalated in December. The government's peace makers said peace talks with the KIO is priortized by political talks at the beginning rather than ceasefire, unlike talks with other ethnic armed groups which focused on ceasefire first.

Burmese soldiers were withdrawn from conflict zones in Kachin state in January 2012 as both sides push for ceasefire talks, but reports from nearby Shan state suggest extra battalions have been deployed to guard the lucrative China-backed Shwe pipeline. The movement of troops took place in the wake of talks between government officials and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the Chinese border town of Ruili. The negotiations ended on 19 January 2012 with both sides failing to secure an agreement.

Near the end of April 2012, a brigade of the KIO seized some vehicles owned by a private company operating in Chipwe township and opened fire on border guard forces in Lupi after crossing over the Mayhka River from Wahsharpa region and blowing off the Shapout Creek Bridge in the township. The Burma Army escalated the use of force against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in December, including through the use of air power. In July the government stopped issuing travel permission for UN humanitarian aid convoys to travel to Kachin Independence Organization (KIO)-controlled areas, effectively cutting off an estimated 40,000 IDPs from access to international humanitarian assistance. Local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were generally able to access these populations during this period. KIA forces allegedly destroyed civilian infrastructure, including roads, bridges, and trains, and targeted attacks on police officials in Kachin State.

Violence in Kachin State had intensified and access for humanitarian organizations remained blocked. On December 10, the Burma Army used helicopters and jets to attack KIA positions near the China border, marking the first use of air power against an armed ethnic group in decades. The escalating violence in Kachin State also resulted in a number of civilian deaths and injuries. In Kachin State there were an estimated 100,000 IDPs by year’s end. In some cases villagers driven from their homes fled into the forest, frequently in heavily mined areas, without adequate food, security, or basic medical care. Approximately 12,000 Kachin and Shan fled into China due to fighting that continued throughout the year in Kachin State. However, in August and September 2012, China reportedly returned at least 5,000 persons back into Burma who may have protection needs.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement on 21 January 2013 hailing the Burmese government's declaration of a unilateral ceasefire in Kachin state. Ban's comments came despite the fact that heavy fighting between Burma's military and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) continues some three days after the ceasefire was supposed to go into effect.

Following resumed peace negotiations in February and March 2013, the level of violence in Kachin State significantly decreased, according to the UN. While the GoB and KIO agreed to allow the U.N. and its partners to provide humanitarian assistance in KIO-controlled areas, the GoB only permitted two convoys by April 2013: a U.N.-led convoy to Hpakant Township and an International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)-led convoy to KIO-controlled areas along the Burma–China border, both in February. In March 2013, no additional convoys had taken place, and regular access had not been granted, although local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) continued to gain access to displaced populations in KIO-controlled areas.

It remains unclear if talks will bring about a significant change in the situation in Kachin and north western Shan state where troops from the KIO and the army continue to exchange fire on a regular basis. Despite the good will expressed by the Burmese government's chief negotiator Aung Min and his team of internationally trained advisers at the European Union funded Myanmar Peace Center, there has been little progress during the more than a dozen rounds of meetings that have taken place between the government and the leadership of the KIO. A major stumbling block between the two sides remains the KIO's call for political talks based on the historic Panglong agreement and the group's insistence on significant troop withdraws of government forces from the frontline.

Although President Thein Sein’s reformist government had repeatedly declared to establish long-lasting peace in Kachin State, its military sent large numbers of troops into Kachin Independence Army (KIA) controlled areas in northern Shan state and Kachin state. By late June 2013 Myanmar troops had fought with Kachin rebels at least 21 times since signing the cease fire agreement in May 2013.

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Page last modified: 26-04-2021 12:37:44 ZULU