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Myanmar: Kachin situation raises questions

Updated On: Jan 08, 2013

The Myanmar military's use of air power against ethnic Kachin rebels has continued to draw international attention this week. The perceived escalation is concerning to observers, as it raises questions of whether the civilian authorities can restrain the military, and may spark international debate on whether sanctions were lifted too soon.

Analysis: Air assaults raise doubts about Myanmar's reformist rulers [Reuters, 6 Jan 2013]
Analysis: Myanmar-Rebel Conflict is Not Black and White [World Politics Review, 7 Jan 2013]

Last week, Myanmar's state-run media confirmed the military had used aircraft against rebels from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). On Friday, an alliance of Kachin groups issued an open letter urging the International Crisis Group to reconsider presenting President Thein Sein with its highest peace award. On Saturday, a local peace negotiator in Kachin state appealed to National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's involvement in the peace process. However, on Sunday, Ms. Suu Kyi said she would not step in unless officially invited by the government.

According to Dr. John Blaxland from the Australian National University, the situation is complex and not black-and-white; the government is not solely to blame for the conflict. "The fact that there have been high casualties belies the view that the Kachin are all just victims here, and I am not convinced that is the case". Although some aspects of the KIA’s position may be legitimate, Dr. Blaxland told World Politics Review that the Kachin need to acknowledge Myanmar has changed. 

The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) is the only ethnic armed group that has not agreed to a ceasefire with the government. However, if the conflict with the Kachin worsens, it could have implications for peace deals with other ethnic groups.

Commentators have suggested that the international community be involved in helping study and resolve the conflict, under the auspices of the UN and ASEAN. However, potential international involvement is an extremely sensitive prospect, not just for Myanmar but also neighbouring countries.