I find the commentary by Si Thu Aung Myint in the Burmese section of the VOA on the current Tatmadaw offensives in the KIA area of Nhkram Gidon to be very troubling. He made the observation that it was difficult to say who was to blame for the offensives -the Tatmadaw or KIA – yet went on to justify the Tatmadaw’s attacks on KIA posts by saying the KIA ambushed Tatmadaw convoys and destroyed bridges.
What Si Thu Aung Myint does not seem to understand is that most of the bridges in the war-torn Kachin region were built by KIO during the 1994-2011 ceasefire period under “Buga Sharawt Masing”, a rural development project. So it follows that the KIA would not destroy what it had built unless there were mitigating circumstances to do so. No standing army would stand by and watch military trucks full of ammunition and troops coming to destroy it without taking steps to hinder them.
From an ethnic Kachin perspective, the Myanma Tatmadaw is an occupying army in ethnic homelands. I am sure current Myanma Tatmadaw leaders know full well what it is like to live under foreign occupation, given Burma’s recent history when it was occupied by British colonials and Japanese fascists.
It is important to point out that the KIA and other ethnic armed groups have never entered Burman-inhabited lands and attacked both soldiers and civilians alike. Ethnic armed groups have confined themselves to stationing and operating in their own inherited lands. From an ethnic soldier’s perspective, it is his or her duty to protect his or her heritage, language, culture and land by repelling invading Tatmadaw troops. Ethnic soldiers and an overwhelming majority of ethnic nationals see the Tatmadaw as a colonist army that perpetrates abuses on its ethnic colonies, perpetuating overbearing control from the Myanmar capital. In short ethnic armies are waging a defensive war to hold off the onslaughts of the Myanmar Tatmadaw.
Contrary to what Tatmadaw spokesperson General Aung Ye Win, Director of Public Relations and Psychological Warfare, said to Pyi Myanmar Journal on Oct 3, there are currently about 3,500 Tatmadaw troops in the area around the KIA’s 252nd Mobile Battalion’s Gidon post. They are from the Mogaung-based 3rd Military Operations Command (MOC-3), Northern Regional Military Command (NRMC), Infantry Battalions under the Pathein-based South Western Regional Command, Mandalay-based Central Regional Command and Kalay-based Regional Operations Command.
Troops have been transported from as far as Sagaing, Mandalay, Kalay and Pathein to attack two KIA frontline posts. Local military observers say such a large-scale military deployment can only be made by the direct command of Army’s Commander -in-Chief.
Fighter jets periodically bomb KIA positions, ground troops keep attacking and artillery shelling have been ongoing for 53 days since the Tatmadaw first launched offensives against KIA’s frontline posts, 252nd Mobile Battalion’s Gidon Post and 3rd Battalion’s Lai Hpawng Post. KIO’s statement released on Oct 8 said “the Tatmadaw has launched numerous attacks using disproportionate force including heavy air strikes in order to capture KIA’s Gidon post.”
Local military observers predicted the move as the Tatmadaw’s first step towards attacking KIO’s Laisin headquarters. The frontline posts are located about 10 miles east of the Myitkyina-Bhamo road and they are not that strategic for local civilian use.
Attacking a KIA post which is located far enough off the main motor road is an outright violation of the agreement made between KIO and Burmese government in May, 2013. KIA sources said according to the agreement they had already moved their military posts stationed alongside the roads.
While the 21st Century Panglong conference led by State Councilor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is progressing on one hand, the Myanma Tatmadaw is carrying out its own mission by transporting more troops and ammunition to the Kachin region, building concrete bunkers, and setting up more military bases along the Myitkyina-Bhamo-Sinlum-Kaihtik-Kampaiti roads. More and more IDPs houses and public schools have been transformed into military barracks and stables for horses used in transportation.
It is extremely important to clearly see the underlying factors of the on-going war in the Kachin region, what the aspirations and demands of ethnic armed groups and their supporters are, what local inhabitants are going through, and why the war is continuing despite progress towards democratisation in lower Burma. It is vital to pinpoint who is responsible for the escalation of the war in the Kachin region. The titular head of government, State Councilor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and her elected government, democratic nations and individuals need to take responsibility to stop the Tatmadaw’s offensives in order to prevent further divisions in the already divided nation of Burma.