Myanmar: Peace in Kachin State?

30 Apr, 2014    ·   4414

Aparupa Bhattacherjee delineates the obstacles in the way of a substantive peace deal

Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Research Officer

Ongoing conflicts between the Myanmarese army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) since 2011 have questioned all the peace deals signed between these two parties. The Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), the political wing of the KIA, had signed a ceasefire agreement with the Myanmarese government in 1994. However, the recurrence of war led to the termination of the agreement in 2011. Several dialogues have been initiated since the 2011 clashes, however all them have failed to establish peace in the region.

What are the obstacles in the path to a successful ceasefire agreement and establishment of peace in the region?

The Game of Peace Talks
The year 2013 witnessed a series of unsuccessful peace deals that started with two meetings between the two parties in Ruili, China in the months of February and March. These peace talks led to the further signing of a preliminary peace deal agreement in May. However, ceasefire was not achieved. Since April 2013, the situation in Kachin started to worsen. A series of attacks by the Myanmarese army around the town of Mansi made the conflict worse. Amid all this, another peace deal was signed in the month of October. These unsuccessful peace deals questions their seriousness and the dedication of both the parties to peace in the region. There have been continuous attacks between the army and KIA. Self-defence and the curbing of smugglers have been used as a pretext by the army for attacks, whereas the KIA is busy playing the blame game.

The first obstacle in the path towards peace in the region is the difference in demands; the government demands that the armed groups should give up their armed struggle in order to establish peace in the country. The armed ethnic group’s demands include not only a federal political system but also a federalist nature of the national army. The Myanmarese army primarily consists of people from the Burman ethnic group and a federalist army will ensure representation from all ethnic groups. Thus, the army will never consent to it. Furthermore there is also an increasing demand that the Myanmarese army should have lesser political authority in the government. The reframing of the 2008 constitution is highly expected to fulfil at least some of the demands.

A Long Way to Go
Second, although the government is pursuing a ceasefire agreement with the KIO, they are not clear about the plan of action after the ceasefire. If a ceasefire agreement is signed without the withdrawal of the Myanmarese army from the region and the reallocation of the disbanded KIO army, it will face the same plight as the 1994 ceasefire agreement. The readymade option that government prescribes to all dissolved militias is their recruitment in the border security forces. This idea had been refused by all the ethnic groups including the KIO.

Third, peace cannot be achieved unless there is trust between the two parties. During a peace talk in 2012, the Myanmarese army took the advantage of the unpreparedness of the KIO army and attacked one of the pivotal check posts under the KIO’s control. Furthermore, the continuous air strikes and attacks in order to capture important road links with the region such as the Mandalay-Bhamo road and others have deepened the mistrust. The army has been severely criticised for alleged chemical weapon attacks; and there have been several cases when the army has used humanitarian aid vehicle to enter a particular town or village. All these factors make the trust-building process difficult.

Fourth, the Kachin region is rich in mineral resources, which has led to a flood of investments by various national and international companies. Thus in the name of protecting these investments in a conflict area, the army has been installed in the region in huge numbers.

The Chinese Angle
Fifth, China is playing a significant role in the peace dialogues between the KIO and the Myanmarese government. However, China’s presence is proving to be an obstacle. China has its own stakes in peace in Kachin. Kachin is situated next to the China-Myanmar border, and peace will lead to a stable border. Due to the conflict, there has been an influx of Kachin migrants into the bordering towns of China. It is also jeopardising several Chinese investments in the region.  China also does not want the US to play any substantial role in these peace talks and therefore hinders any effort by the parties to internationalise the issue, which could further delay progress.

Both the government and the KIO need to understand that in order to establish peace, signing peace deals and ceasefire agreements is not enough - steps should be taken by both parties to end the conflict on the ground and not just on paper.