The Kachin Independence Army Deputy Chief of Staff Gen Gun Maw tells The Irrawaddy about the causes and consequences of recent attacks by the Burma Army.
In a recent interview with The Irrawaddy, Gen Gun Maw, deputy chief of staff of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the military wing of Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), talked about recent clashes between the KIA and the Burma Army, illegal logging in northern Burma and the nationwide peace process.
Question: We heard that a KIA camp was captured by the Burma Army on Feb. 12. What happened?
Answer: Yes. A KIA outpost was seized. The Burma Army is attacking our frontline bases under the pretext of a crackdown on illegal log traders.
Q: The state-owned newspapers last week reported that government troops were engaged in a clash with an armed group while they were on a raid on illegal loggers. The newspapers only used the word “armed group” and not “KIA.” What do you want to say about that?
A: KIA is the only army there, so, even though the government only used the word “armed group” and did not name any organization in particular, its troops were fighting with us. There are illegal loggers in that area but most of the logging takes place in Sagaing Division, where people cut valuable trees inside forest reserves. So, instead of cracking down on those people at the border, the [illegal logging] problem could be solved if it [the government] stops them from logging in those reserves. These [military] engagements occurred as the government troops were trying to catch loggers along the way.
Q: The reporting in state-run papers implies that the KIA has been giving protection to illegal loggers. Any comment on that?
A: The logging issue is complicated, starting with where people got permission from. There are many illegal loggers who rely on official permits from the government. Also, there are people who cut trees with or without permits. So, the issue of who provides protection or permits to those who are involved in logging is controversial. There are people who benefit from this trade on both sides, in KIA and the government, they are taking bribes. Instead of blaming each other, we mainly have to find a way to solve the issue of illegal logging.
Q: The timing of the KIA camp seizure was not long before the next meeting [scheduled in March] between the government’s peace negotiation team and the ethnic armed groups’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordinating Team (NCCT). Do you think the government is insincere about nationwide ceasefire because of such an attack on the KIA?
A: The NCCT will have to continue its meetings with the government. But, as for the KIO, it now needs to reconsider how much it will be involved in the peace process. I can say that this attack by the government troops is insincere because, no matter what reason they use, to purposely attack the KIA camps, while peace negotiation is underway, does not look good.
Q: Can you please confirm the news about the death of KIA officers in recent clashes? What is your estimate on the causalities of KIA troops? We have also learned that the KIA had to withdraw from one of its camps on Union Day. Is that quite close to your Laiza headquarters?
A: Yes. We lost our soldiers but not officers. Two to three soldiers died in the recent battle and I don’t know the exact number of causalities yet. The camp we had to withdraw was an outpost of a platoon, located about an hour’s drive from Laiza.
Q: Why do you think such fighting took place on a day of significance like Union Day?
A: It was just because the government troops were not well controlled. Our outposts and theirs are quite close to each other and their frontline troops have been moving around so, fighting can occur anytime.
Q: The next ceasefire talks between ethnic armed groups and the government in Hpa-an have been repeatedly postponed. When approximately do you think the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) can be signed by all concerned parties? And do you think political talks, scheduled to be held in 2014, are still possible?
A: We can’t set up an exact timeframe for the signing of NCA. It depends on negotiations between us and the government. There will be no political talks until after we have signed the NCA. Likewise, there will be a series of talks after the NCA.
Q: To what extent has the Burma Army participated in peace talks.
A: The army only joins meetings. That’s why we have said that the Myanmar Peace Center is the sole body that actually works for peace and has been meeting with ethnic groups, even though there are committees at different levels for peace making in Burma. We do not like this kind of situation and always say that the peace process will not be successful if the army only comes for meetings and does not pay special attention to it at other times. I think the army’s participation in the current peace process is weak.