In recent months, most of the news regarding Myanmar has been upbeat with sanctions against it being dropped and the country holding democratic elections. The nation still has a long way to go towards stabilization, however, and reports are now leaking that the military has launched campaign against Kachin rebels.
News of the attacks hit the airwaves after a non-profit group working the area, Free Burma Rangers, posted videos on the Internet and through media sights of military aircraft attacking rebel positions. The so-called Kachin Independence Army is the militant arm of the Kachin Independence Organization. The Kachins consists of six allied tribes located in Mynamar, China, and North East India, and are currently fighting to create their own independent state.
In Burma the Kachin’s live in Kachin state, which comprises a large portion of the Northern tip of Myanmar. The state rests in the Southern edge of the Himalaya mountain range and is the most mountainous part of Myanmar. The state is home to 1.2 million people, most of them ethnic Kachins. Kachin rebels have been fighting the Burmese government since 2011, following a 17 year truce. Recent progress in Democratic elections and the scaling back of the military’s grip over the country have failed to alleviate many of the complaints held by Kachin leaders.
The most recent attack is just another notch in a long series of skirmishes starting in 2011. The Kachin state is heavily isolated due to its mountainous geography and differing culture. The Kachin rebels feel that their state, which is rich with natural resources and a popular destination for Chinese FDI, is not receiving its fair share of the economic pie. From the point of view of the rebels, the national government is simply leaching Kachin’s resources for their own benefit.
Before 2011, tensions continued to mount as the national government signed more and more deals with the Chinese. Also the national government tried to roll the Kachin rebel forces into a state border guard that could be easily controlled. Both of these actions have been met with resentment and now the Kachin rebels are determined to fight for independence or at least greater autonomy.
The total number of causalities since 2011 is unknown, however rebel leaders estimate that they have lost at least 700 fighters. They also claim to have killed at least 5,000 government soldiers, these numbers are likely inflated. Reports on the ground suggests that there have been considerable casualties on both sides, despite efforts by multiple parties, including NGOs and foreign governments, to diffuse the situation.
With the Burmese government already struggling to maintain peace under the country’s new found Democracy, this renewed conflict could destabilize the nation just as it seems to be making concrete progress. The Norwegian government and Swiss NGO Center for Humanitarian Dialog have been attempting to broker a peace deal, however, a ceasefire still remains elusive. If tensions continue to flare there is a risk that the conflict could be used to justify increased military control of the country or else cause a flare up in other ethnic and religious tensions within the country. Either scenario would immediately threaten the stability of Bhutan.