RANGOON — Census enumerators’ inability to collect data in parts of Burma’s far northeast under the control of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) will not negatively impact the local people, a rebel leader said.
Salang Kaba Doi Pi Sa, a member of the central committee of the KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), was responding to a report in Burmese government-run newspaper that “threats and disrupt[ion]s” from the ethnic rebel group had prevented census-takers from reaching people in parts of northern Shan State and Kachin State.
The government and the KIA still clash intermittently, and fighting has been at times intense since a longstanding ceasefire broke down in 2011.
As well as villages within its area of control, the rebel group administers camps on the Burmese-Chinese border for more than half of the estimated 100,000 people displaced by fighting. The Kachin rebel organization said ahead of the census, which began nationwide March 30, that it would not participate.
Salang Kaba Doi Pi Sa, also the head of the KIO-aligned Kachin Relief and Development Committee, confirmed to The Irrawaddy that the KIA would not allow the census to be conducted in areas under its control.
He cited objections among ethnic Kachin to the list of 135 ethnicities used to record the country’s ethnic makeup. The official list breaks up the Kachin into 12 “subgroups,” some of which ethnic leaders say are erroneous categorizations.
“We decided at a KIO central committee meeting in March not to have the census here, and we have already reported about it to the relevant authorities,” Salang Kaba Doi Pi Sa said.
The New Light of Myanmar said Thursday that enumerators had so far been unable to conduct the census in 40 village tracts in Kachin State and three in northern Shan State, blaming KIA troops.
The newspaper also said Thursday that the census had by March 31 already reached a total of 2,035,001 households nationwide.
Salang Kaba Doi Pi Sa declined to comment on the state-run newspaper report, dismissing it as the merely the government’s opinion. He added that the KIO and KIA collect population data in their areas of control every three years.
“There is no harm to Kachin people from not participating in the government’s census taking process now underway,” he said.
Ye Htut, a spokesman for Burma President Thein Sein, told reporters on the weekend that the government had agreed with some rebels to collaborate on taking the census in conflict areas that would otherwise be off-limits to enumerators
“We don’t have our staff in some Karen areas that the KNU’s [Karen National Union] Brigade 5 and 6 controls. So we trained KNU members for census taking procedures and sent them back to their areas to collect data,” Ye Htut said.
Similarly, the United Wa State Army has also told media that its members would volunteer to take the census themselves in their areas, rather than allowing government census teams into their territory in eastern Shan State.
The last time Burma held a census was 1983, when even larger parts of the country were under the control of ethnic armed groups. Ye Htut said that census missed out nearly 1.9 million people.
“Now we are trying to cover the whole country, except for some villages in conflict areas,” he said.
Additional reporting by Kyaw Phyo Tha.