By Saw Yan Naing
Amid escalating hostilities in Kachin State in which another major rebel base was overrun by government troops, Burma’s prominent democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi reiterated the importance of ending the conflict in northern Burma.
Speaking to The Associated Press in Rangoon on Thursday, Suu Kyi said, “The Kachin situation is important now because of the hostilities and the fate of the refugees and the local people.”
Suu Kyi went on to say that the armed conflict is also representative of relations between the government and ethnic nationalities all over the country, a problem that should be resolved by a political settlement.
Suu Kyi said that resolving the country’s long-running ethnic conflicts is likely the most important issue over time, because “unless there is ethnic harmony, it will be very difficult for us to build up a strong democracy.”
The country’s sizable ethnic minorities have for decades struggled for greater autonomy, leading to cycles of brutal counterinsurgency.
La Nan, a spokesperson for the rebel Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), told The Irrawaddy that government troops has overrun another major Kachin military base on Jan. 4 after several days of bombardments, and aided by military helicopters which carried munitions and supplies high into the mountainous terrain.
The KIO troops abandoned their base as they couldn’t resist any longer the heavy mortar shelling, said La Nan.
With the reinforcement of battalions from its Light Infantry Division 88, the Burmese army had been attacking the KIO base since Dec. 21, he added.
The government troops also seized a major base belonging to the KIO’s Brigade 4 in late December. The base—located in Mong Tong Township in northern Shan State—is considered strategic as it lies in the path of the trans-Burma oil and gas pipeline.
Despite a government peace delegation’s plans to hold peace talks with KIO leaders later this month, hostilities on the ground are escalating, said KIO sources. On Dec. 10, President Thein Sein ordered his commanders in the region to put an end to hostilities, an order which appears to have been disregarded.
The conflict between Burmese government troops and the KIO broke out in June after a series of incidents and rising tensions in the region. The conflict has since forced more than 45,000 civilians to be displaced.
The KIO spokesperson said that more than 160 clashes between government forces and Kachin troops were recorded by the KIO for the month of December—more than 90 of which broke out after the presidential order on Dec. 10.
Although the previous military regime concluded ceasefires with many of the ethnic groups, the pacts have been precarious and some of the larger guerrilla armies never joined them.