Cut out of Burma election, Kachin minority could turn guns on junta
The ethnic Kachin, legendary guerrillas who spent decades fighting Burma's military regime, have been cut out of the Burma election scheduled for Nov. 7.
When it comes to guerrilla warfare, the Kachin tribesmen of northern Burma (Myanmar) are past masters, and there are growing signs that Burma's Nov. 7 election could result with them reaching for their guns again.Skip to next paragraph
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During World War II, US-backed Kachin Rangers terrorized Japanese occupiers and rescued downed Allied pilots. When Burmese independence soured for ethnic minorities, Kachin fighters turned their guns on government troops in these rugged mountains between China and India.
In recent years the Kachin have tried their hand at politics. They signed a ceasefire in 1994 with Burma’s military rulers and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) has been gearing up for Burma's election, the first in 20 years. But now some Kachin are beginning to regret their foray into politics.
Their hopes were dashed when the ruling junta removed pro-KIO politicians from the election ballot after the group refused to merge its armed wing, known as the KIA, with the national army. Now the KIA, which has an estimated 5,000-10,000 men, is busy recruiting and training, and residents are braced for renewed fighting.
“After the election process, we ethnic minorities can be crushed,” warns a Kachin church official. Most Kachin are devout Christians, a legacy of the American missionaries who came during British colonial rule.
Burma’s regime has been accused of committing war crimes against ethnic minorities opposed to its rule. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday in Honolulu that the US supported an international probe into human rights violations in Burma. Britain and Australia, among others, have said they would support a UN commission of inquiry that could pave the way for a trial.
Trouble north, and east
The political tensions in Kachin state are echoed along Burma’s northern and eastern borders, where the military has tried to convert armed ethnic groups into border guards under central government control. Last year, Burmese troops overran an ethnic enclave and sent more than 30,000 refugees across the border with China, causing diplomatic tensions with Beijing, which fears instability on its flank. It has urged all parties to enter peace talks.