The Irrawaddy News Magazine [Covering Burma and Southeast Asia]

‘They Are Fighting Us Like a Foreign Invasion'
Friday, December 2, 2011

General Gun Maw, 46, is the Kachin Independence Army’s (KIA) vice chief of staff and heads the Foreign Affairs Department of the KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). He was interviewed by Edith Mirante, of Project Maje, in the besieged town of Laiza on November 21, a week before the KIO met with Burmese government representatives in China.

Question: Because it has been 6 months of fighting, what are the challenges?

Answer: The conflict started June 9th and now it’s been almost 6 months. Actually we wanted to solve the problem by political means, but this political way of resolution is not open to us, that’s why we are still holding the defensive warfare. The time of fighting is increasing from month to month. Within October, one month, there were about 180 of these clashes. Likewise in November, over 100 of these fightings. During these battles, the government are using infantry divisions. Usually these infantry divisions are used to defend against foreign invasion. So that means they are fighting us like a foreign invasion.

Q: Would you characterize this as defensive warfare, or guerrilla, mobile?

A: We use a combination of defensive line and mobile guerrilla warfare. We use tactics depending on the situation or the geography or the terrain. For the whole country, for the whole area, our overall strategy is the defensive situation, but later we use some guerrilla tactics.

Q: Up to now the fighting has been in the east. Is there any consideration of pushing the conflict further out?

A: The Burmese government also cannot spread their troops into other areas, they have to concentrate on this area. And also on the other hand, since the beginning of the conflict, they have lost their face in front of the Chinese authorities. They want to reclaim it, so they want to concentrate there.

Q: Is the [China] pipeline project considered an intrusion in KIA territory?

A: We have discussed about this pipeline project but we don’t make any decision about that. Because it is not yet active in our area. And also even though it crosses in our area it is just a very short term crossing. But we’re still watching about this, the progress of it, and we are discussing about this.

Q: Your neighbors the Wa—do you consider them neutral?

A: Their interest, their destination is different than us. Because they transformed from communist to now they are a national [ethnic] organization. Actually they are a friendly organization, they are not likely to fight against us.

Q: What would be your message to the outside world?

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A: The first thing is that in order to solve the problem in Burma we have to go the parallel approach—democratizing and ethnic issues. If the ethnic issues are omitted in this process and democratizing is prioritized this time, the government of Burma can become stronger, financially and politically. On the other hand, this government will continue to suppress the ethnic people, for example it’s like Suharto’s government in Indonesia.

Their final intention for ethnic peoples is disarmament. If the disarmament happens, for them it means peace, the solution. But we cannot trust just disarmament, that’s why we are always pushing them to have the political dialogue. But no result for us.

In the past 17 years of experience, in that period, we just got the ceasefire, and on the government’s explanation, the ceasefire meant peace for them—the solution for them. That’s why we are asking them, we said, the conflict in Burma is the problem of the political approach. That’s why to solve the problem, we need to discuss politics. So far now, even though we are fighting each other, we always try to communicate with them. By means of correspondence, by means of telephone, and a couple of days ago, we sent some of our delegates to meet with Gen. Aung Min [The Burmese railways minister, an ex-general] in Thailand. We are just trying to let them know that we are struggling for, we are demanding, for ethnic equal rights and democracy and real federalism. We are not trying to be separated from this union.

Q: The KIO lost forests during the ceasefire, and minerals. Are you trying to protect resources for the future?

A: We have been trying to protect all these resources for a long time but since we are the revolutionary group we cannot work on it very effectively, successfully. We lost a lot of our natural resources, like the wood, forests and jade mines, they are almost gone now. When we speak about the Myitsone Dam, we objected to this project because we need to preserve, protect the environment, the land. But on the other hand, the government says we are disturbing the national interest. That’s why we lost a lot of nonrenewable resources from our land. That will never come back again.

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