Religious and ethnic civil society groups last week called for an immediate ceasefire and peace talks in Kachin State and for both sides to ensure the safety of civilians in the war zone.
The conflict is thought to have claimed the lives of thousands of soldiers and civilians, while up to 100,000 people have been displaced since fighting broke out in June 2011. Recent weeks have seen an escalation in fighting, with the Tatmadaw launching airstrikes in late December to clear convoy routes near Laiza.
“The fighting is getting worse and worse. We live in fear all the time. So we are here now to request all ethnic groups to try to cooperate and pressure both sides to stop the war,” Ko Khin Maung Win from Hpakant township said at the event, which was held at Royal Rose Restaurant in Yangon on January 10.
Ko Khin Maung Win was one of six Kachin people brought to speak at the event by organisers to give a sense of what life is like for those directly affected by the conflict.
“We don’t want war. We want to live without fear,” said U Baran Shaung, also from Hpakant. “I lost my daughter in September because of the war. I also have no way of earning a living anymore.”
His daughter, Jar Sang Aein, a grade 10 student, was killed by a bomb in September 2012 during fighting between the Tatmadaw and Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
U Khaw Ban from Hpakant was wounded in September and spent three months recovering in hospital. Because of an injury to his hand he is unable to work.
“My family depends on me. Now I’m jobless so we are really in trouble,” U Khaw Ban said.
Kachin State residents said economic conditions had deteriorated because of the government’s decision to shut down gold and jade mining and logging operations.
They said they wanted National League for Democracy leader and Pyithu Hluttaw representative Aung San Suu Kyi to help end the war.
“We expect she can help us as much as she can,” said U Cho, also from Hpakant.
Other participants said the conflict between the government and KIA was a long-term issue perpetuated by the lack of trust on both sides. The battles taking place today are the result of unsystematic political negotiations over many years under former governments, they said.
Participants agreed a ceasefire should lead to “all-inclusive political dialogue” as a means of establishing a genuine federal system, and warned that the conflict in Kachin State, as well as those in Rakhine State and at Letpadaung, could endanger the transition to democracy.
88 Generation leader Ko Min Ko Naing said both sides were putting their own interests first and not considering what is best for the people. There are some people who are using the war as a pretext for occupying territory and doing more business in Kachin State, he said.
“There are not only Kachin but also many other ethnic people living in [the conflict] area. All have suffered in different ways because of the war, especially women and children. All people must have the right to state their desires while a ceasefire agreement is being made,” Ko Min Ko Naing said at the event.
Salai Kipp Kho Lian, leader of Chin National Front, said the solution was to “go to Pinlon again”, a reference to the historic Pinlon Agreement of 1947 that General Aung San brokered with ethnic groups to ensure Myanmar’s independence the following year.
“Pinlon is the one way to get genuine peace. Pinlon is the foundation that built the union spirit. If we don’t build this foundation again, we will never get genuine peace,” he said.