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Myanmar is one of the most ethnically diverse ethnic groups and full with national resources which are the key factors made complexity and conflicts in the country. According to the 2008 constitution, it was demarcated seven ethnic-minority states-the Chin, Kachin, Karen, Kayah, Mon, Rakhine, Shan and seven divisions, which are largely resided by Myanmar, majority population. The multi conflicts happen in these ethnic minority states because of power sharing and distrust.
Furthermore, the identical issue between majorities and minority created greed and grievance which had been rooted since the 1947 Panlong Agreement, the important dialogue between Myanmar and ethnic groups for internal peace and independence.
Among ethnic conflicts in Myanmar, the Kachin conflict is still unsolved and hindered in the peace process. The armed conflict between Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Myanmar Army broke out six decades ago. In 2014, the fight between two armies resulted that thousands of people were wounded and dead and over 100,000 internally displaced people. In addition, two the sexual violence case of two Kachin young teachers occurred in 19th January, 2015, escalated the conflict because Kachin called for the action from Myanmar army but there was no acceptable action yet. Recently, there is ongoing fight between KIA and Myanmar army in Shan and Kachin States.
The first peace dialogue was dead lock in 1997 because of distrust between majority and minority groups and the fight restarted in 2011. At present, Myanmar reassumed peace process but is still needed to sign cease fire agreement with KIA. Therefore, it is important to study the rooted problems between Kachin and majorty, Myanmar.
Kachins mainly live in northern part of Myanmar bordering with China and the other large Kachin populations can be found in the northern Shan State. They speak dozen distinct languages belonging to the “Tibeto-Burman linguistic family” and largely devote to Christianity (Ekeh, 2007, pp.4). Kachin State is rich in “economic potential -forestry, jade, gold and other natural resources but has suffered greatly from over three decades of conflict” (Smith, 2010, pp.16). In 1961, “the Kachin Independent Organization (KIO)” was established based on of claiming to the rights of secession and then, the Kachin State became the one of major armed ethnic conflicts in the country (Smith, 2010, pp.16).
The first ceasefire agreement was signed in 1994 acknowledging the non-ceasefire armed groups as national offenders at the border areas (Holliday, 2013, pp.97). As the Kachin State has been gradually developed after the ceasefire agreement, the “Chinese mega-project investments such as the Myitsone dam, jade-mining projects” became a social and environmental threat for Kachin Land and spurred animosity among the Kachin public (The Irrawaddy, June 9, 2015). According to Irrawaddy news, the tension between KIA and the government arose after the 2010 government order to transform into a border guard force under the central command of the government army. In June 9, 2011, the violent attack between two forces broke out and more than “100,000 civilians, mostly ethnic Kachin, Shan and Lisu, are displaced in the months following the outbreak of the conflict” (Irrawaddy, 2015; Holliday, 2013, pp.96). The peak of this armed conflict was from the end of 2012 to the beginning of 2013 with the surprise attack of the Myanmar air force against Kachin armed groups and civil conflict also flared in northern Shan Sate where the Kachin population resides (Holliday, 2013, pp.96).
Meanwhile, the government resumed the peace dialogue with ethnic armed groups but the ongoing fights particularly with Kachin armed groups escalated the conflicts and impossible to reach the ceasefire agreement. According to an interview with Gum San Nsang, President of Kachin Alliance, a network of Kachin communities and organizations that advocates for the rights of the Kachin ethnic nationality, the political compromise was not reached and the ceasefire was impossible because of the government troops’ air strikes of 23 Kachin cadets on November 19, 2014, the upcoming celebration of Kachin Union Day (Wagley, 2015, pp.2). In addition, cases of sexual violence against two young Kachin teachers which occurred on 19th January 2015, escalated the conflict because Kachins called for action from the Myanmar army but no acceptable action has happened yet (Irrawaddy, January 20, 2015). As a consequence, the distrust, hatred and animosity among the Kachin population is increasing.
“Seven armed ethnic groups” and the government agreed to sign the “nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA)” on October 15, 2015 although the other “eight groups” including Kachin Independence Army (KIA) abstained from the initial deal (Channel Newsasia, 2015). “The holdouts say the continued exclusion of three groups engaged in ongoing conflict with the government—the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army—is the primary reason for their abstention” (Kha and Nyein, October 5, 2015). This is the outcome of a two-year long negotiation between the government and ethnic groups but challenges remain in order to achieve a genuine peace agreement with all ethnic groups including the Kachin Independence Army (KIA)- which is “refusing to sign the agreement and [is] still engaged in clashes with government troops” (Parameswaran, 2015). Regarding the recent exclusive interview between the Irrrawaddy and KIA General Gun Maw, General Gun Maw said that “we share the same goal-introduction of federalism and call for all inclusions but haven’t seen any as yet” (Kha and Neyin, 2015). In addition, he mentioned that “clashes have become more intense. If the government would fight us because we don’t sign the National Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), we have no option but to defend”.
It has taken more than six decades for the dispute to settle down (disagreement) between the two sides but it cannot get rid of this cycle of conflicts. Securing all inclusive, sustainable peace will take times and not be easy depending on detailed negotiations on “force separation, a monitoring and verification mechanism, and a dialogue on political issues” (International Crisis Group, 2013, pp.2). Without the further progress, the stability and development of Kachin State are not guaranteed and a resumption of armed conflicts between Kachins and the government is possible.
Furthermore, the 2015 general election will be held on November 8th and the voting arrangement in conflict-affected areas is facing difficulties because of ongoing fights particularly between the government army and the Kachin armed groups. Therefore, the Myanmar Peace Process is not only important for nation-building and but also for the future of the country, itself. Thus, it is important to analyze the underlying cause (disunity and distrust) of the conflict particularly between Kachin and the government (Myanmar dominant).
Disunity and distrust among majority and minorities
Myanmar was colonized by the British Empire from “1885 to 1948” (Steinberg, 2010, pp. 27). Under the British occupation, Myanmar (Burma) was practiced by a “divide and rule” policy and governed into two separate territories: “Ministerial Burma”, where the majority, Burmeses/ Myanmars predominated, and the “Frontier Areas”, where most of the ethnic groups/ hills people lived (Smith, 2002, pp.6). U Ba Swe, a Burmese Prime Minister in the 1950s stated the British introduced Christianity and external cultures to hills people “in order to separate them culturally from the Burmese (Smith, 2002, pp. 7). The British ruled different settings of political and economic development between two territories and enforced ethnic disunity and distrust between majority and minority.
After the war, many ethnic groups including “Kachin” claimed separation from the Union. In other words, ethnic minorities including Kachin, Chin and Shan competed for the independence of their own territory. Initially, the British also planned to give two-stage independence for Ministerial Burma and the Frontier Areas. In a report by Smith (2002), General Aung San, the founding father of Myanmar Independence, made efforts to restore the “inter-communal relations” among minority citizens and got sentiments from Kachin, Chin and Shan leaders at the “Panglong Conference in February, 1947 for fully autonomy in internal administration and the enjoyment of democratic rights and privileges for all ethnic groups” ( pp.7).
After independence in 1948, the “Communist Party of Burma (CPB) began an insurrection against the central government” as the outcome of disagreement over power sharing (Raw, 2004, pp.67). Some ethnic minorities took up arms alongside the CPB for “minority rights and local sovereignty because of the development gap, uneven wealth and power distribution, inadequate communications and infrastructures” (Raw, 2004, pp.67). According to Seng Raw, “ethnic rights and justice” originated as a political struggle and developed into mistrust and grievances between the majority and minorities (pp.68).
In a paper by Guan (2007), the different perceptions of minorities and the majority never are not stated. Myanmar perceives the disunity came out because of the following factors: the lack of national unity and solidarity as the result of British “divide-and-rule” policy; the assassination of General Aung San who got full trust and support from ethnic citizens; the responsibility of Myanmar armed forces to fight the insurgents to prevent and protect the territorial integrity of the country; the official name change from “Burma” given by the British colony to “Myanmar” referring all ethnic groups in a collective way (Guan, 2007, pp. 124-125).
In contrast, the ethnic minorities have different point of views. They perceived “the 1947 Union constitution” did not reflect the “spirit of the Panglong agreement” (Guan, 2007, pp. 125). In the Panglong Conference, General Aung San convinced ethnic leaders including Kachin, Chin and Shan leaders to work for union prosperity by sharing of resources, manpower, wealth, skills. Furthermore, he firmly stated that “ If we are divided, all national races, each pulling in a different direction, the Union will be torn and we will all come to grief” (Guan, 2007, pp.125). Unfortunately, this union spirit, ethnic identities and equality were eroded since the death of General Aung San. In addition, the Myanmar government changed the official name of the country, Myanmar in 1989 without the consent of minority citizens. It is viewed as “Burmanization by another name” (Guan, 2007, pp.125).
According to the “1947, 1974 and 2008 constitutions”, the country was demarcated seven ethnic minority states- the Chin, Kachin, Karen, Kayan, Mon, Rakhine, Shan and seven divisions, which are largely resided by majority population (Steinberg, 2010, pp.74). The minority citizens fought for their ethnic rights addressing the grievances which created conflict and political instability over the past 60 years. Minority citizens claims that “the rights to education and broadcast and print media in minority languages, the use of minority languages in public and private, and the communal ownership of land, participation in decision making concerning development, economic programs and the use of resources” are being addressed (Smith, 2010, pp.35). As a consequence, multiple conflicts happened in these ethnic minority states and have not been solved yet. According to an ethnic activist, Seng Raw, minority nationalities are fighting for their “survival not for ideology” (Raw, 2004, pp.67).
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