Saturday, 25 January 2020

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War and Peace: The Kachin chapter

EDITORIAL—As Myanmar government and Kachin leaders sit down for talks in Myitkyina, hope will be high that progress toward peace will be realized as part of the central government’s continued efforts of reform. Yet, critical voices as to the process are by no means difficult to find. Are we then foolish to hope for a breakthrough this week to one of the country’s most intractable conflicts?

KIA front lines
KIA front lines
In some ways the answer lies in how one defines peace. If it is thought of simply as the absence of hostility between competing armed forces, then there is reason for cautious hope. However, if peace is thought of as more complex—as encompassing basic human rights and security for the entire population—then our reason for hope is diminished.

The government, or China if some reports are to be believed, declined to invite any international observers beyond the United Nations. This was in opposition to Kachin requests for delegations from the United States and United Kingdom to be present. However, it is an omission that makes sense.

Since the 2010 release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the government has been largely successful in delinking—at least officially—the country’s primary democratic opposition from wide ranging ethnic demands. As such, instead of the once envisioned tripartite dialogue incorporating the government, democratic opposition and ethnic interests, we are now witnessing a series of bilateral engagements featuring the government and individual ethnic parties.

This phenomenon, combined with the rapidly growing acceptance of the Naypyitaw government around the world, strengthens the hand of government negotiators—as it becomes more difficult for Kachin and other ethnic leaders to gain substantive international attention and support. And over time, if the current trajectory continues, the scale will tip ever further to the advantage of the central government.

Projected topics up for discussion and possible action also speak to the deferment of any comprehensive agreement. Issues such as force deployments and the convening of political meetings will be well received as part of the country’s ongoing reforms, much as earlier ceasefire arrangements with entities such as the Chin National Front. However, such ceasefire arrangements, while providing hope for a near-term cessation to hot war—no small feat in the context of Myanmar—also defer the most difficult issues. And there is no guarantee how such issues will eventually be resolved.

Nevertheless, an agreement by both sides to hold the first ever Kachin peace talks inside Myanmar is a welcomed achievement. Given history, any hope for trust to grow between competing leaderships—absolutely necessary if any long-term peaceful solution is someday to be realized—must begin from such modest beginnings.

And while a more diverse international presence at future peace talks may be realized, the realization of peace, for both the armies and populations involved, both starts and ends with the people of Myanmar.

Related articles:
  1. Kachins want Panglong Agreement brought into talks
  2. UN Sec-Gen welcomes ceasefire, but Kachins say fighting continues
  3. Burma govt denies using chemical weapons on Kachins
The Kachin’s last stand
Since October this year, Burma has been in a state of civil war, with fighting between Burmese military and armed ethnic rebels. The ruling junta started a crackdown on these armed groups.

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