MYITKYINA, Kachin State — Dozens of people protested in the Kachin State capital on Tuesday, alleging that the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) forcibly recruited their young family members.
The protest by local ethnic Shan people—at the liaison office of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the political wing of the KIA—came as a delegation from the rebel group was in Myitkyina for talks with government representatives after a recent resurgence of fighting in northern Burma. A leader of the ethnic armed group promised to investigate the complaints and release anyone who was forcibly recruited.
The protesters, many of whom were the mothers of children or young people they say were taken to serve for the ethnic armed group, gathered at the liaison office at about 4 pm. Most said their family members were taken away in 2012 during the first intense fighting of the current war between the KIA and the Burma Army.
One of the Shan protesters, Ni Ni Naw, said her eldest daughter was taken in Tarlaogyi, an area in Myitkyina Township, while collecting vegetables.
“She was just 13 years old when she was taken. It has been two years already,” said Ni Ni Naw, who said she had been told by other local villagers that her daughter is now serving for the KIA.
“There was no one I could depend on after she was arrested. Her younger brothers are very young. I depended on her as she was eldest one. I want to ask them to release my daughter.”
Another, Tin Pyint, 56, said her 26-year-old son, Kyaw Thu, was also taken by the KIA in 2012. As a widow, she said, she has struggled without her son’s help.
Some were protesting about people they say were recruited more recently. One 65-year-old woman claimed her son, Khin Maung Htwe, 24, was forcibly recruited by the KIA while working as a gold miner in Shwe Jin on March 3 this year. The woman said she had visited her son at a KIA Brigade 1 camp, and he had told her he was forced to serve as a soldier and could not leave.
After about an hour of the protest, the KIA’s Deputy Chief of Staff Gen. Gun Maw invited the family members into the liaison office’s garden for a discussion. KIA staff took notes on the victims’ complaints, and copies of documents and photographs, and the rebel leader pledged to investigate.
“I have everything that you have presented to me today, and I will investigate about this with the battalions on the ground. If it is true and we find these children, we will tell our troops to release them,” Gen. Gun Maw told the protesters.
He encouraged the ethnic Shan people to report abuses by KIA troops to the leadership, and insisted that the Kachin rebel group’s forces should not a source of fear for civilians of any ethnic group.
“There will be a federal system in the future of our country. We all, Kachin and Shan, have to stay together. It is better if we understand each other,” said Gen. Gun Maw.