Myanmar: Kachin State and the State of Peace

11 Nov, 2013    ·   4171

Aparupa Bhattacherjee questions the lack of success of the peace deals between the KIO and the Myanmarese government

Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Research Officer
The ongoing clash in southern Kachin state has questioned the success of the new peace deal that was signed between the Myanmarese government and Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO). The peace deal, which was signed in October 2013, was expected to bring a ceasefire. However, the ceasefire agreement was not attained and the conflict still persists. The latest peace deal was preceded by a similar peace accord in the same year between the two parties. Nevertheless, no major initiatives have been taken in order to stop the violence and improve the plight of the civilians who have been regularly victimised during these clashes. 
What are the pros and cons of the latest peace deal signed? Should the government be blamed for the lack of success of all the peace deals?

The Peace Deal: Expectations and Outcomes
After three days of negotiations, a preliminary peace agreement was signed on 10 October 2013 in Myitkyina – the government administered capital in Kachin region. Both the parties have agreed upon several terms that include attainment of peace in the region, establishing a joint monitoring committee to observe the ceasefire as well as to work towards the resettlement of thousands of people who have been displaced during the clashes in the region. While the accord mainly emphasises the reduction of hostilities and lays the ground for a political dialogue, a ceasefire agreement is yet to be reached between the parties. They have both claimed that a formal ceasefire agreement is in the pipeline. Additionally, the new agreement is based upon a seven-point deal that was decided between the government and the KIO during their previous meeting held in May 2013. In order to form a ceasefire monitoring committee, a set of five basic policies and 18 rules have been recommended by the negotiators. Furthermore, several pilot projects have been planned for four villages for the resettlement of the displaced people. Thus, the only positive aspect of this recent peace deal is that it has at least laid a foundation for the formation of a ceasefire monitoring committee.

The biggest criticism that the deal has invited is that the accord has had no substantial achievements.  It basically reiterates similar points that were agreed upon during the May 2013 peace deal. Moreover no concrete plans were chalked out in order to attain peace in the region, which was supposed to be the main focus. According to the deal, the roads connecting this region to the rest of the country would be reopened; however, no such measure has been implemented till date. Establishing a joint monitoring committee will not be an easy task until both the government and the KIO stop blaming the other instead of working together towards establishing peace.

Who is to Blame?
The deal is part of the government plan to achieve a comprehensive ceasefire with all the armed ethnic rebel groups and end decades of confrontation; essential for the development and growth of Myanmar as a democratic nation. The government has already signed a ceasefire agreement with most of the ethnic armed groups except for some, including the KIO. The KIO have been fighting the government for greater autonomy and ethnic rights in Kachin since 2011. Although peace talks with this group were initiated in 2011, no success could be achieved due to conflict between the negotiators. Furthermore, although the KIO has been insisting on a peace dialogue, government representatives have placed a ceasefire agreement as a precondition for the peace dialogue. It seems that the government is in a rush to achieve its plan of achieving immediate nationwide ceasefire agreements prior to the 2015 election. Interestingly, the government, in its hastiness to attain the peace plan within a time frame, has been granting business licenses and concessions to these leaders. Thus, prolonging the ceasefire agreement benefits armed group leaders who are allegedly more concerned about their personal gains rather than the cause for which they have been fighting for.

In the meantime, the KIO’s plans to host separate meetings with other armed ethnic groups in order to discuss a roadmap in dealing with the government authorities in itself indicates the degree of mistrust that exists among KIO activists towards the government. The seeds of mistrust were sowed after the failure of a 17-year old ceasefire agreement that led to clashes in 2011. Apart from the political aspect, the peace deal is also essential to gain overall economic benefit. The Kachin region is rich in mineral resources, and there are several ongoing economic projects on dams, oilfields and gas pipelines, involving international and transnational actors. The protection of business projects is a reason for the deployment of additional military force in the region who, in the name of protection, use force and commit extensive human rights abuses. Victimisation of the local population further ignites confrontation between the rebel group and the military. However, the government cannot be blamed alone; it is important that the government and the KIO work together towards peace in the region. However, the recent clashes have definitely delayed the process and increased the level of mistrust between these two groups.