This month has marked the seven year anniversary since the rekindling of the civil war between the Kachin people of northern Myanmar/Burma and the Myanmar military. Though the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has been embroiled in conflict with the government ever since June of 2011, there have been periods of more or less fighting, as well as other conflicts around the country taking precedence for the Myanmar army — most recently that has been the Rohingya. Now the fighting has shifted back north, and there have been multiple reports of tens of thousands of civilians who have been displaced and are currently on the run.
The KIA spokesman, Colonel Naw Bu, said that “There have been 447 clashes from the beginning of 2017 to May 2018 alone.” He claims that the Burma army has 108 deployed battalions that are fighting the Kachin, and another 90 in a neighboring state (Shan State). He said that the military has fired on KIA forces hundreds of times, including both small arms and indirect fire, and that some of those fires have been directed to villages which have resulted in civilian deaths. He reported the destruction of 406 entire villages since the military broke the ceasefire, which the KIA estimates have driven approximately 130,000 people into the jungle to seek refuge. Many of the buildings destroyed were medical facilities, schools and religious buildings (both Christian churches and Buddhist monasteries).
Myanmar is also infamous for the number of landmines strewn about its jungles, as the military has liberally laid out mines en masse over the decades. Col. Naw Bu said that since the end of the ceasefire, 1,339 people have been injured by these mines — 19 of them were children.
The military is also infamous for using rape as a weapon, and Col. Naw Bu addressed this as well. He said that since 2011, 124 women have been raped by soldiers and that 90 of them were subsequently killed.
He went on to speak of illegal imprisonments and torture, and outright accused them of trying to wipe out the Kachin in what he called a genocide, “Burmanizing” the rest (this does not mean simple assimilation into the country — it means wiping out culture, controlling their assets, and dominating the area via military control). Col. Naw Bu said that, on top of currently deployed units, the Myanmar military has also empowered several militias throughout Kachin state to fight the KIA as well.
The conflict with the Rohingya was on a much larger scale (though this is still affecting well over a hundred thousand people), but this sort of accurate documentation was a little scarcer. Over 90% of the Rohingya were driven from their homes, often only carrying whatever they had with them at the time. A lot of the reporting came from third parties, such as the UN, Doctors Without Borders, other independent aid organizations, as well as international human rights groups. Two journalists were jailed as they were reporting on the conflict. It seems the Kachin have more infrastructure from which they can combat the Myanmar military, and document the human rights abuses that occur — these numbers will also likely be recorded by human rights groups, the UN, private aid organizations and other third parties.
In 2011, it was the government who broke the ceasefire that had lasted since 1994. Besides the original reasoning behind their conflicts with various ethnic groups throughout the country, the army has material interests in Kachin state as well. They only signed the ceasefire in the 90s after they had seized the profitable jade mines in the area; the whole area is rich in both jade and gold. Kachin state is also a large producer of opium and teak wood.
Featured image courtesy of the Associated Press.