Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Kachins Reject Border Guard Role

Young Kachin soldiers in the military training. (Photo: Ryan Libre)

The Irrawaddy News

The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) has rejected the Burmese military government’s proposal to transform its armed battalions into a border guard force under joint-command with the Burmese army, its party leaders said on Wednesday.

Lahkyen La Ja, the general-secretary of the KIO, told The Irrawaddy that its armed wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), will only take up the role of border guards when there is political change in Burma.

“The Burmese army alone can’t bring about the transformation,” he said. “Along with rights for the people and political parties, Kachin State wants a guarantee of genuine development [from the regime].”

According to sources close from the party, the KIO has been under pressure from low-ranking members within the KIA and grass-root organizations not to accept the junta’s proposal.

James Lun Dau, a central member of the KIO who is living in Chiang Mai in Thailand, said that the party leaders have decided to reject the proposal because “the time is not right” to transform their units into border guards. He said that first and foremost, it is time to form a new government through elections.

Lun Dau said that KIO leaders will reconsider the proposal after the new government is elected. Meanwhile, the party is conducting a survey among the people of Kachin State with regard to the junta’s proposal to transform the KIA into border guards.

“We know there should not be several different armies within one country,” said Lun Dau. “But there is no genuine peace in Burma yet. This is why the country has more than one army.”

The KIO has not yet formally responded to the junta’s proposed plan, but Lun Dau said the party leaders expressed hope that they will be able to meet with the junta’s representatives in the near future.

Meanwhile, the Kachin News Group on Tuesday reported that the KIO had, in fact, accepted the junta’s proposal. However, the Chiang Mai-based Kachin Web site said that the agreement “does not automatically mean that the KIO has agreed to transform its armed wing, the KIA, into a battalion of the ‘Border Security Force.’”

The reason for the apparent contradiction could not be confirmed.

In a statement released on May 12, five exiled Kachin organizations—the All Kachin Students and Youth Union, Kachin Today Group, Kachin National Organization, Kachin State National Congress for Democracy, and Progressive Kachin Christian Solidarity—also rejected the Burmese junta’s plan.

The Burmese military authorities had given several ethnic ceasefire groups a deadline of the end of May to accept their offer of undertaking the new border guard roles.

On Tuesday, according to a source at the Sino-Burmese border, a representative of the Burmese regime, Lt-Gen Ye Myint, held a meeting with the Monglar, an ethnic ceasefire group in eastern Shan State, which is headed by Sai Leun (aka Lin Mingxian) of the National Democratic Alliance Army.

Other China-Burma border-based ethnic armed groups—the United Wa State Army, the Kokang ethnic group and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army—were also recently reported to have rejected border guard roles.

Sources speculated that the Wa and Kokang groups probably rejected the government proposal because they did not want to be subservient to Burmese command.

According to the Burmese regime’s guidelines, each border guard battalion would consist of 326 troops, including 30 from the Burmese army, of whom three would be Burmese officers with administrative positions, according to sources.

The KIO controls about 4,000 troops and the party signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government in 1994.

A total of 17 insurgent groups have signed ceasefire agreements with the ruling generals since 1989, according to official Burmese reports.

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