Frustration is mounting in Burma as the Thein Sein Government escalates its unjust war against the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) in Kachin state. Fighting between Kachin and Burmese troops broke out on June 9, 2011, in Bhamo District, Kachin State.
Since then the conflict has claimed thousands of lives and has forced more than 100,000 refugees and IDPs to flee the area. Much of the recent fighting between the Burma Army and the KIA has occurred in areas rich in natural resources and where large infrastructure projects are taking place, including the controversial Myitsone Dam which has been suspended for the time being. The most important Chinese project – the 771-kilometer-long gas-and-oil pipeline across Kyaukphru in Rakhine state to Ruili on the China border – also passes through northern Shan State in a KIO-controlled area.
Exploitation of natural resources by the government, as well as the major infrastructure projects that are approved with little or no consultation with local people, has exacerbated the decades-long conflict between Burma Army army and ethnic Kachin armed groups that seek greater autonomy under Pang-long Agreement. The Burma Army is trying to gain control over these areas to exploit more natural resources and to attract more foreign investment.
Construction of the Myitsone began December 21, 2009, led by China’s state-owned China Power Investment Corporation (CPI) in cooperation with Burma’s Asia World Company (AWC) and the Burmese government’s No. 1 Ministry of Electric Power. Remarkably, AWC owner is former drug lord Lo Hsing Han. As a result, the KIO warned CPI employees not to enter north of the Mali-N’mai Rivers. The KIO stopped cooperating with the Burmese government when it discontinued the 1994 ceasefire agreement.
On May 23, 2011, the Chairman of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), Lanyaw Zawng Hra sent an official letter dated May 16 to Hu Jintao, the then President of the People’s Republic of China, urging China to stop the controversial Myitsone dam construction on the Irrawaddy River in Kachin State. In the open letter the KIO warned Myitsone and six other hydroelectric power plant projects could lead to civil war between the KIO and the Burma Army because Burmese government troops were deployed in the KIO control areas providing security for the dam-construction projects.
Environmental activists and researchers warned that the Myitsone project would force Kachin villagers to abandon their homes and could inundate an area the size of Singapore – all this to provide power for Chinese industry
On 30 September 2011, President Thein Sein sent a letter to parliament suspending work on the Myitsone Dam Project in Kachin state, a move widely welcomed by the Burmese public.
However, this goodwill was to be short lived. In yet another of the contradictions that have been rife in the President Thein Sein government, the Burmese Army then began to crank up its offensive on the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). The real reason hundreds of men have been slaughtered on both sides the greed of those in power and the insistence that the huge developmental dam projects on the Irrawaddy River must be completed.
Having invested so much in the project it is highly likely that China is exerting quiet but sustained pressure on the Burmese government to complete the Myitsone project. In October 2011, former Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo visited China for the ASEAN-China expo trade fair and had met with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the sidelines, Reuters News reported. China and Burma should keep their word to implement joint projects; China’s premier was quoted as telling Burma’s VP, lightly referring to unresolved differences over the Chinese-backed Myitsone dam.
Given China’s claim on development projects in Burma, there is much speculation that China is involved in the Kachin war in some way. Last week fellow Asian Correspondent journalist Francis Wade reported on Kachin rebel claims that the Burmese Army was using Chinese airspace to attack its headquarters, Laiza.
Notably, President Thein Sein received Zhang Guoqing, who is the President of China North Industries Corporation- NORINCO, at the Presidential Palace in Nay-Pyi-Taw, on 24 December 2012, according to the state-run media. Some analysts believed that Zhang Guoqing’s visit seemed closely related to the country’s natural resources which China is so keen to exploit.
If this mounting offensive against KIA is meant to appease China, the government has made a serious error of judgement. The government must not allow China to meddle in the country’s internal affairs. It is time to build a true democratic nation. The government has to declare a nationwide ceasefire and work towards an all-embracing peace conference that includes all the ethnic rebel groups. To become a free nation, Burma needs national reconciliation immediately.