On April 29, the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), representing an alliance of 12 ethnic armed forces, met in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
After the meeting, Gen. Gun Maw, deputy commander-in-chief of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), had an interview with The Irrawaddy. He talks about his recent official trip to the US, his expectations about US and UN involvement in the peace process in Kachin State, and the prospects of achieving a nationwide cease fire between the NCCT and the central government.
Question: To what extent was your recent trip to the US a success?
Answer: I would prefer to talk about what I did there, rather than about what I achieved. I met with senior officials from the State Department and others departments. I have to say I am pleased with the trip.
Q: Did US officials make any promises about US support in the Kachin peace process?
A: There were no promises, but I learned about their wishes for the Kachin peace process. They are really interested in the whole peace process. I can assume that they want to be involved in it. I understand that whether they can get involved or not depends on their negotiations with the Burmese government. I reminded them that we have invited UN, US, UK and Chinese involvement in the peace process since 2013. As the KIO [Kachin Independence Organization] as well as an ethnic group, we want them to get involved. So I told them that even if they are not invited by the government they should find a way to be part of it.
Q: Kachin State in northern Burma shares a border with China. Don’t you think China would be annoyed if the US became involved in the peace process in the area?
A: China may be worried about US involvement, but if we could clearly state our procedures and goals it would be OK.
Q: How important is UN, US and international participation for achieving peace in Kachin State?
A: They are important, of course. We have had civil war in our area for six decades. So the KIO believes that the issue is beyond what both parties [KIO and Burmese government] can handle. It’s impossible to leave out China from our peace process as it’s our neighbor. At the same time, the US is one of the superpowers seriously starting an engagement policy with Burma. So, the KIO believes that peace in Kachin would be achieved only when superpowers get involved.
Q: Some say the internal peace process should be carried out by people inside the country and not involve outsiders. The Burmese government does not seem pleased with the idea of foreign involvement. What would say to that?
A: Few governments would be pleased with international involvement in their internal affairs, I think. But when it comes to peace issues like ours, international assistance always brings a proper solution in the end. We understand that our leaders should take charge in solving internal problems, but we need the international community as a witness. We don’t invite them to be involved in our peace process in any way they wish. We just welcome them to keep a watchful eye on our peace process and keep it on the right track.
Q: The President’s Office spokesman, Ye Htut, has told media that US involvement is not necessarily helpful, saying that the US track record of achieving peace in Iraq and Afghanistan is “not impressive”. What do you think of his comments?
A: As a spokesperson of the Burmese president, his comments maybe reflections of what the government thinks. Whatever it is, we [the Kachin rebels] are the best evidence of their [the Burmese government’s] failure to solve internal problems. I just want to repeat that international involvement is important as the civil war has been raging on in our area for 60 years.
Q: Your trip to the US was an official KIO state visit recognized by the UN and the international community. Did they ask you about the KIO’s political goals and if you want independence?
A: Yes, they asked me about it. I explained them about our message, which I delivered to the Kachin people at a public forum in Myitkyina in 2013. At that time, I said the KIO defines ‘independence’ as ‘freedom and liberty’. I said openly to [the government] that we have fought with them as we want independence. We want it and we will get it. But what we are discussing now is peaceful co-existence in Burma and equality for our people–this is what our predecessors have also discussed. Just give us a political situation that we, Kachin people, could accept. [When making statements about independence] we are just making a point about how we should exist together without seceding from the union, rather than signing an agreement that says we never secede from the country.
Q: How long will it take until the fighting ends in Kachin State?
A: We have to take time to reach a ceasefire agreement as we don’t want to spend much time on discussing a political dialogue that would follow a ceasefire agreement. Some people say political dialogue is still impossible because we haven’t got agreement on cease fire yet. To my understanding, if there is a guarantee for correct political discussions, a cease fire could happen overnight. By that time, there will be no more gun fires and battles in Kachin State.