Kachin army holds mass public forum

One of Burma’s largest ethnic armies, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), has told a gathering of some 1,000 people that it will continue to reject proposals to transform into a border patrol unit unless a compromise is reached.

The forum on 16 April came in the wake of reports that the 8,000-strong KIA has been reinforcing troop numbers, likely in preparation for an offensive by the Burmese army, which is also said to be deploying extra battalions to Burma’s northernmost Kachin state.

In March the Burmese army was reported to be taking over football stadiums in the Kachin state capital, Myitkyina, to train civilians for proxy militias.

The ruling junta has made more than a dozen demands to the KIA that it becomes a Border Guard Force (BGF), which would give it legal status as a unit but see it subordinated to the Burmese army.

The KIA has in turn refused to transform unless a compromise is reached over the input that the KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), can have in Burmese politics.

The deadline for ceasefire groups to transform into Border Guard Forces is 28 April, after which they are likely to be declared illegal organisations by the Burmese junta.

“The BGF are only a small part of the transformation process,” Gun Maw, vice chief of staff for the group, told Radio Free Asia. “We want the [government] to look at the bigger picture of the KIO transformation, not just the KIA … We are ready to transform the KIO, and the KIA will follow in time.”

The Burmese government has threatened to use force against any ceasefire group that refuses to transform, with decades-long truces now seemingly on tenterhooks. The majority of the country’s 18 ceasefire groups, including the 30,000-strong United Wa State Army (UWSA), Burma’s largest, have so far refused.

Gun Maw cited letters from thousands of Kachin people who have opposed the idea of transformation, and told AP that if the ruling generals “take the military way, it will be a big mistake for them.”

Earlier this month however around 100 Burmese army trucks were spotted near to the KIA’s Laiza headquarters, apparently bound for Mytikyina. Roadblocks were also put in place to stop supply routes from China feeding the KIA.

Any fighting in the north of Burma could draw the ire of China, a strategically key ally for the junta but one that has warned against unrest along the shared border. Heavy fighting between Burmese troops and an ethnic Kokang army last June forced some 37,000 refugees into China, and drew a sharp rebuke from Beijing.

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