It’s time for the KIO to sign up to peace

The Kachin Independence Organisation needs to put the interests of the people of Kachin State ahead of its own and sign a bilateral ceasefire with the government.

By SITHU AUNG MYINT | FRONTIER

It is five years since fighting resumed in Kachin State between the Tatmadaw and the Kachin Independence Army, the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organisation. The anniversary of this unfortunate event was marked recently by civil society groups, including the Kachin Peace Network.

They highlighted the misery of the tens of thousands of Kachin displaced by the fighting and living in camps and they also called on the government and stakeholders to bring peace to the state.

The resumption of hostilities between the Tatmadaw and the KIA in June 2011 – soon after the U Thein Sein government came to power – ended a 17-year bilateral ceasefire.

In 2012, the Thein Sein government and the Tatmadaw launched an initiative to achieve a national ceasefire agreement by holding bilateral negotiations with armed groups. Their strategy was to reach ceasefire agreements with each group before expanding the process to the Union level.

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This enabled the government and the Tatmadaw to build trust with many of the groups, including the Karen National Union. The agreement signed with the KNU in January 2012 ended 60 years of fighting in what had been one of the world’s longest-running conflicts. There were similar successes with other armed groups.

Despite repeated rounds of negotiations, a ceasefire agreement with the KIA was elusive. This was mainly because of the KIA’s stand that a political solution was necessary to end armed conflict. It argued that if political problems could be resolved, the fighting would stop automatically. There was no need for a ceasefire, insisted the KIA, because what was needed was political dialogue.

However, the KIA participated in the Union-level peace talks toward a nationwide ceasefire. These negotiations resulted in 16 ethnic armed groups signing an agreement with the government on the draft text in March 2015.

The KIA had demanded that a ceasefire be inclusive. After the Tatmadaw blocked the participation of three groups close to the KIA – the Arakan Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army and ethnic Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army – the KIA declined to sign the final text.

When the so-called nationwide ceasefire accord was signed with the Thein Sein government last October, it was inked by only eight of the 16 groups involved in the negotiations. Other big groups apart from the KIA that did not sign included the United Wa State Army and the Shan State Army-North.

Myanmar is yet to achieve a genuine national ceasefire agreement and fighting continues with the KIA and other armed groups.

The KIO was established in February 1961. After fighting for 33 years it reached a ceasefire agreement in 1994 with the military government headed by Senior General Than Shwe. The agreement was for a ceasefire only and did not provide for political dialogue. It permitted KIO leaders to run businesses but they were not allowed to contact any political groups or other ethnic armed groups, nor to organise among the Kachin people.

The privilege granted to KIO leaders to run businesses in cities like the state capital, Myitkyina, meant that some of them became wealthy but there was little improvement in the living standards of most Kachin for the 17 years that the ceasefire was in force.

Although the Thein Sein government was as much a creation of the military as the former ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party it was quite different to its military government predecessors. The Thein Sein administration can be regarded as a government of transition between military rule and the National League for Democracy government headed by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

If the KIO had been among the signatories of the ceasefire inked last October it would have been granted the right to organise among the Kachin people, hold talks with other armed ethnic groups and meet civil society organisations. Groups that signed the NCA, including the KNU and the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South, enjoy such rights.

The KIO’s refusal to sign the NCA is questionable. How can it be that the KIO was prepared to sign a truce that granted it no political rights with a military dictatorship, but not prepared to sign a ceasefire that offered many political rights with a transitional government?

It will take considerable time to negotiate a political settlement between the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups. During what are likely to be long, complex negotiations, the people of Kachin should not have to endure more fighting. The KIO should sign a bilateral ceasefire with the government and participate in the national political dialogue.

The time is ripe for the KIO to be involved in the work of returning displaced Kachin to their homes, clearing landmines and helping to develop the state for the benefit of its people.

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