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Myanmar’s war behind the screen

MYITKINA (SE): “First of all, it is painful for any Kachin to hear the word rebel being placed together with the word Kachin,” Bishop Francis Daw Tang, from the diocese of Myitkyina in war-torn Kachin state of the Union of Myanmar, said in summing up the conflict between the government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

“It is more correct to use the word rebel of the government soldiers, owing to their permanent behaviour—intimidating, stealing, extorting, robbing, raping, torturing and killing indiscriminately,” the Kachin bishop explained to the Sunday Examiner.


“In my opinion, it is the Kachin freedom fighters that are superior to the troops in the practice of ethical warfare and in social and ethical behaviour,” he continued.


Bishop Daw added that he believes that his people have also been badly let down by the nation’s democracy icon, Aung San Suu Kyi, as she has visited the Kachin state and knows what is going on, but has remained silent about it through two visits to the National Congress in Naypyidaw and during her trips abroad.


He added that government-controlled media also went on silent mode, not breathing a word about the bloodshed of the bishop’s people. On top of this, he added that it is impossible to ascertain the level of sincerity of the military generals, saying that he does not know if they are peace-oriented or not.


In describing the violence in his homeland as a war behind the screen, with the true extent of the suffering and bloodshed hidden by mute media and a couldn’t-care-less government, Bishop Daw is appealing to international media to tell the story of what is happening to his brothers and sisters.


On March 13, Bishop Daw told a group of 13 ambassadors and representatives from the European Union that although a formal ceasefire has not been reached, the unilateral ceasefire order of the president of Myanmar, Thein Sein, can be read as a hopeful sign.


The bishop, who was hosting the group from Europe to a meal in his cathedral presbytery in Myitkina, accused the government troops of secretly deploying personnel all over the Kachin state during the respite in fighting.


“They are taking advantage of a relatively peaceful situation. The military has encroached deeper into areas under the control of the KIA. Meanwhile, fighting continues in the northern Shan state and it is only the intensity and frequency that has changed,” Bishop Daw explained.


He said that this has worsened the situation of the over 100,000 internally displaced people in the Kachin state, many of whom are seeking shelter in churches.


“The whole nation suffers. The country’s economy is crippled because of the current war in northern Shan and Kachin states,” he stated.


He added that politically speaking, the government proposes a lasting peace, whereas the KIA and the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO—its political wing) proposes a meaningful peace.


“We, as Kachin Catholics, want to propose a genuine peace that is based on justice, not only according to National Law, but also fulfilling the requirements of International Law,” Bishop Daw told the European Union delegation.


In addressing the delegation, he described his lush, mountainous homeland of the Kachin state as being famous for its green, but lamented that today, it is only known for its red.


“It is famous for its green stones (jade) and green forests,” he explained. “It was known to the Americans during World War II as the Green Hell. Today, the land is infamous for its red, the red of blood.”


He added that the American tag of green hell still holds good today, but in a new way.


He explained that fighting in his own state has traditionally been limited to the area around the China border, but since November last year it has become far more widespread, with the fiercest conflict around the headquarters of the KIO in Laiza.


“Between Christmas Eve and January 19, when the president called a ceasefire, the death toll was high on both sides. It felt like a conflagration, like a war between two countries, each using all means to crush the other, including suicide missions, chemical weapons and airstrikes,” he explained.


Bishop Daw described it as being so intense that over 1,000 Kachins from the Chinese side of the border descended into Laiza to protest against the unrestrained warfare.


“The Chinese police tried to stop them, but failed,” he related. “Many believe that the action might signal to both the Chinese and Burmese governments that the Kachins on Chinese soil might volunteer for real time engagement in the conflict.”


The bishop added that although it is not well known, historically, Kachins in the Indian Assam area made an attempt to cross the Myanmar border for a similar reason.


He explained that official figures show that there are currently 37,248 people huddled in refugee camps in government-controlled areas and a further 46,733 in the KIA-controlled territory.


However, he pointed out that these are only official figures and do not include those who have been forced to flee their homes and have found refuge with family, hiding in the mountains or have even wandered outside the country.


He explained that in the urban areas, the camps are better serviced than in the hinterland under the jurisdiction of the KIO, with livelihood programmes and work outside the camps also available.


However, in other areas aid normally only comes through Church-based groups and the government does not show any concern for these people, and some of them are in really remote, difficult to access areas.


He added that the camps along the Chinese border are the most difficult, because both the Myanmese and Chinese government place severe restrictions on movement and other activities in the area.


However, he noted that neither the government nor the KIA are able to keep any control in the areas where the state’s precious green jade is being mined, so the situation there varies greatly from place to place and time to time.


Bishop Daw explained that the most notable injustice in the whole affair is the huge number of displaced people, some of whom have been away from the homes for over one year.



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