Tag Archives: KIA

Naypyidaw Orders Halt To Fighting Along Sino-Myanmar Border

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.

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More Bad Burmese Days For Beijing

This Bystander noted last month that Beijing had moved additional troops and armed police to Yunnan on its side of the border with Myanmar’s Kachin state as Myanmar government forces pushed their new offensive against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). Latest reports say the fighting has again flared up, sending a trickle of refugees into China, unwanted as they may be. Most of those displaced by the fighting, estimated to number 30,000, are in makeshift refugee camps on the Myanmar side of the border. Part of the purpose of Beijing beefing up its armed presence was to deter the trickle turning into a flow.

Beijing’s sympathies lie with Naypyidaw not the KIA, which has led the campaign to disrupt the expansion of China’s commercial interests in Kachin. The 17-year ceasefire between the KIA and the government had allowed Chinese companies to start logging, mining and hydropower projects in the region, such as the controversial and now suspended construction of the Myitsone Hydoelectric Dam on the Irrawaddy river. These interests are now at considerable risk.

Yet, Beijing’s close relationship with Naypyidaw that carried Myanmar’s military rulers through years of international isolation is now in flux following the installation of a civilian government, albeit one backed by the Army. The new government has been making reformist noises, for which it has been rewarded with the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 2014, suggesting it is looking south and west as well as northeast. The country’s new Army chief, Gen Min Aung Hlaing, chose to make his first overseas trip to Vietnam this week, not to China like his predecessors, a decision that will readily be seen as a snub to Beijing, especially as Hanoi is embroiled in a maritime dispute with China over the South China Sea.

Update: Beijing will not have been too pleased, either, to read the plea by U Kyaw Hsan, Myanmar’s information minister, for Washington to lift U.S. sanctions against his country, which he said was making it more reliant on Chinese companies. The minister’s comment came during an interview with the Wall Street Journal. We don’t think lifting of the sanctions is imminent, regardless of the Obama administration’s decision to send Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, to visit the country. That fits more with the series of moves by Washington to deepen its engagement with China’s neighbors.

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The Troubling Trouble On China’s Southwestern Reaches

The situation just across the border from Yunnan in Myanmar’s Kachin state is becoming increasingly unstable. Beijing has moved additional troops to its side of the border to prevent a trickle of refugees into China again turning in to a flood, and to provide some moral, and possibly material support to Myanmar government forces fighting the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Fighting has intensified since the midyear collapse of a long-standing ceasefire between the KIA and the government. Ethnic Kachins fleeing the fighting are reportedly being turned back at the border. We hear, but have not been able to confirm, that the transport of supplies of food and medicine in the opposite direction are being hindered if they are thought to be destined for the KIA. Chinese riot police have been holding crowd control exercises within a baton’s length of crossings points on the border, while an additional 6,000 PLA troops were sent to Yunnan this month. They are being deployed opposite the KIA strongholds and refugee camps being set up for displaced Kachins that are close to the China border.

Beijing’s sympathies lie with Naypyidaw not the KIA, which has led the campaign to disrupt the expansion of China’s commercial interests in Kachin. The 17-year ceasefire between the KIA and the government had allowed Chinese companies to start logging, mining and hydropower projects in the region, such as the controversial and now suspended construction of the Myitsone Hydoelectric Dam on the Irrawaddy river. These interests are now at considerable risk.

Beijing would most like its old allies in Naypyidaw just to get the KIA under control. The hardliners in Myanmar’s army, who are close to Beijing, are happy to do that by force of arms, as they have shown in recent weeks, but President Thein Sein’s civilian government that succeeded the military junta that made Myanmar an international pariah, is more constrained. It is courting the West and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in order to return to the international fold. It cannot be seen to be Beijing’s lapdog, protecting Chinese commercial interests at the expense of a native ethnic minority and creating a humanitarian disaster to boot.

For its part, Beijing may have to take some sort of lead in brokering an end to the fighting in Kachin, uncomfortable as that might be for it now. Not only does it want neither unrest nor a humanitarian disaster on its southwestern reaches but it also does not want to create an opportunity for India or ASEAN to step, in the name of regional security, in to what Beijing considers its sphere of influence and a key corridor connecting it to the Indian Ocean.

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