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Cracks in Myanmar junta’s armour may not signal great news

HONG KONG (SE): If it was a bout in the boxing ring, it may be interpreted as a white handkerchief, people in the Kachin State of the Union of Myanmar are saying in response to an October 3 announcement that the government is suspending construction on the controversial Myitsone Dam, part of a planned hydro-electric plant near the confluence of the Irrawaddy River near the Chinese border.
However, there are much more fundamental issues at stake. The government in Naypyidaw is currently involved in a civil war with the Kachin Independent Army (KIA) and a visiting Irish missionary paraphrased comments from local priests in the capital of Myitkyina saying, “To put it bluntly, the KIA is beating the living daylights out of the government troops and it is more a gesture asking them to call the dogs off.”
However, the civil war is not the battle of pride and skill that is played out on the killing floor of the boxing ring, but a struggle for control of vast natural resources in the form of gas and petroleum, as well as precious metals and stones.
The construction of the huge hydroelectric dam became controversial when local people began to be forcefully displaced from their homes and farms to make way for the dam and the lifeline of water for drinking and the rich agricultural fields downstream began to run out.
While Christian leaders generally have applauded the move, with Archbishop Charles Bo, of Yangon, saying there have been an increasing number of problems associated with the dam, people in the local area of Mogawng say that although they are happy at the announcement, they do not believe that the government will stick to its promise.
However, prominent Kachin politician, Tu Ja, said, “It is wonderful news not only for the Kachin people, but also for the whole nation. I believe the president, Thein Sein, will keep his promise this time. So the dam construction is ended, period!”
AsiaNews editorialised that the suspension of the construction, along with greater press freedom and less censorship and the participation of Aung San Suu Kyi in the politics of the country are signs of fresh winds blowing across the impoverished nation.
Nevertheless, the Democratic Voice of Burma, has cautioned against grasping onto straws, saying that signs of rapid change are at least suspicious and New York-based, The Committee to Protect Journalists, says that the media remains heavily controlled.
However, the gently blowing zephyr is fanning the growing discontent between the haves and the have-nots, with people in the suburbs of Yangon commenting that more and more working people are now forced to beg just to survive.
The second big sticking point is the unsolved problem of the civil war in Kachin state, which simply will not go away.  Church sources in Banmaw reported that as late as October 6, the number of refugees was still increasing.
Bishop Raymond Gam organised a day of prayer in Banmaw, Kachin state, telling UCA News prior to the event, “We are highly concerned for the future of the displaced people, so we are nominating October 9 as a day of prayer and we will give our special attention to them.”
It is estimated that more than 20,000 civilians have now been displaced from their homes and almost every Church across the state is now a refugee centre with the numbers still swelling and they are moving further away.
In distant Lashio, in Shan state on the Chinese border, Bishop Philip Lasap Za Hawgn is receiving people fleeing the fighting in the Kachin state. 
Between the Baptist and Catholic Churches almost 200 people have been taken in and many more are staying with relatives in private homes.
A Church worker said on September 30, “The fighting has not been intense,” but the people have good reason to be afraid of the government military. Bishop Lasap noted that as long as the government soldiers remain in position in the countryside people will be forced to flee.
The number of internally displaced persons even in Shan state in now increasing and field workers report that respiratory infections, diarrhea and skin disease are reaching worrying levels.
AsiaNews notes, “The war will continue. The flame is lit and the conflict is too strong to be extinguished.”

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