Myanmar President Thein Sein has reportedly ordered a halt to the government’s military offensive against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) along the border with Yunnan. Fighting has intensified since a 17-year old truce broke down in June. Tens of thousands of ethnic Kachins have been displaced, sending up to a reported 7,500 unwanted refugees across the border in to Yunnan and threatening a humanitarian disaster on China’s southwestern doorstep. Chinese authorities in border towns have started encouraging Kachin refugees to return home. Naypyidaw allowed a small U.N. relief convoy through to the border town of Laiza on Monday, the first international aid to get through to the region in a couple of months.
Naypyidaw similarly stopped its offensive against ethnic Shan further south last month. With sporadic fighting continuing in Kachin despite the order to cease fire except in self-defense, one question now is how far the writ of the civilian government in Naypyidaw runs over the military’s commanders on the ground. Another is whether Naypyidaw will be prepared to drop its refusal to put greater autonomy for the region on the agenda of its formal ceasefire talks with the KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization.
With several Chinese-backed hydropower dams being built in Kachin, including the controversial and now halted Myitsone Dam on the headwaters of the Mekong, Beijing badly needs an outbreak of peace in this gateway to Southeast Asia.