By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
In our paper 6350 dated 19 Feb 2018 we have mentioned that fighting between the Myanmar Army (Tatmadaw) and the Kachins had intensified and that the offensive instead of bringing around the KIA to signing the agreement would only result in throwing them in the lap of the Chinese through the newly formed FNPCC (Federal Political Negotiation and Consultation Committee) led by the Chinese supported UWSA (United Wa State Army).
On 13th Feb. two ethnic armed organisations of the now marginalised UNFC (United Nationalities Federal Council) the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and the Lahu Democratic Union (LDU) signed the nationwide cease fire agreement sponsored by the Government amidst great fanfare with all the important dignitaries including the State Counsellor and the Army Chief attending and addressing the function.
Since 25th January, fighting between the Army and the Kachins escalated to new levels and probably the offensive was to bring round the KIA to sign the agreement. After a lull, a second offensive on KIA controlled areas appears to have started in the first week of March.
Two areas have specifically come under intensive attacks from the Burmese Army- one around the Tanai Township (also pronounced as Danai and Tanaing) on the LEDO Road and another around Sumprabhum on the road from Myitikkyina to Putao.
The KIA is said to have withdrawn from the mining areas of Tanai and its Battalion 14 from its base which was the target of Army. Even as recent as 23rd March clashes have been going between the Army and the KIA and it is said that Army has been using heavy artillery to clear the area. The United Nations and its humanitarian partners have expressed concern over the fighting and about the safety of the civilians affected.
It may be recalled that at the instance of the Chinese representative Sun Guoxiang, representatives of the Burmese Army and the KIA met on Feb 1st- the first of its kind after the cease fire between the two was broken in 2011. The talks ended in agreeing for further talks but in the meeting, the Burmese Army representatives wanted the KIA to vacate and dismantle certain of the formations created by the KIA after the Cease fire was broken in 2011. This was not agreed to, as the contention of the KIA was that once the cease fire is broken with renewed offensive, the KIA is free to strengthen itself. It is also said from sources close to the KIA that the Army’s offensive is a reflection of their opposition to the presence of KIA in northern Shan areas. It is known that historically, the KIA has had a presence in the northern Shan for a very long time.
An interesting and detailed article by a knowledgeable person who writes under the pseudonym Joe Kumbun throws some light on the reasons for the Army’s offensive against four brigades and a battalion of the KIA.
First, is that the Tatmadaw has recently strengthened itself by acquiring fighter jets from Russia and in fact these jets have already conducted air strikes on one formation of KIA. Given the increase in the fighting strength of the Tatmadaw and the creation of new brigades by the KIA, fighting is bound to continue and escalate in the near future.
Second, the offensive is perhaps meant to increase pressure on KIO to sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement. This in my view is very unlikely but instead it would only make the KIA become more dependent on the UWSA led alliance and thus to China.
Third, the offensive is meant to be a warning to other non-signatories of the NCA like the AA, TNLA, MNDAA and even the UWSA- the biggest one with over 40,000 fighting cadres in its strength. This again is very unlikely with China holding the key to reconciliation.
The suggestions made by Joe Kumbun for resolving the conflict are very valid and could be tried without any outside interference. These include
One, de-escalation of fighting and establishment of peace in Kachin areas should be the first priority. The cease fire agreement of 1994 was unfortunately broken by the offensive of Tatmadaw in 2011 and more it continues less will be the chances of ethnic reconciliation now being pursued by Suu kyi.
Second, the Army should show some magnanimity and accept a role for the FPNCC in political dialogue and objections to the AA, TNLA and MNDAA participating in the political dialogue should be dropped. Already the UWSA is talking to the government as we will see later, but the objection of the Army over the inclusion of other groups like AA etc. in the political dialogue has some substance. What is the guarantee that more groups may mushroom and go for an umbrella protection under the UWSA even if these groups are now allowed? It is a question of principle.
Last, that the Government and the Army should invite the KIO and other armed groups for the third Panglong Conference due to be held soon. This is doable and can be pursued.
There was a mild flutter and even astonishment when a member of the government’s peace commission announced that the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Mongla group (NDAA) had accepted the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement only to be quickly denied by the UWSA subsequently. What perhaps would have happened is that both the government and UWSA may be in touch with each other to explore ways to continue the political dialogue. Even here the problem is that the government as yet is unwilling to recognise the umbrella coalition of FPNCC as a group while willing to deal with the groups individually.