According to recent reports, around 2,000 Burmese troops have moved into place around the town of Laiza in Kachin State. Laiza serves as a key rebel base for the Kachin Independence Army and refuge for thousands of families displaced by the government’s attacks.
Sources on the ground suspect that the Burmese army is preparing for a major assault. This escalation is happening in the face of the European Union and Canada’s recent “suspension” of sanctions, and immediately after a visit by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who also called for the world to end sanctions.
Since our President Tom Andrews’ trip to Kachin State last month, we have been working tirelessly to convince the “experts” on Burma here in the United States that mass atrocities are continuing to happen. The conversations have, at times, been shocking — it is as though 20 million people in Burma have been erased. Our friends at U.S. Campaign for Burma are doing important work to put those people back on the map.
Many speak of political reforms in Burma, and how we need to support those reforms to benefit “Burma’s people.” Many speak of the importance of economic engagement and bringing investment to “Burma’s people.” But the conflict map of Burma shows us very dramatically what a narrow ring around Burma’s capital, Rangoon, actually benefits from these changes.
The political reforms have reached the Burman majority population — approximately 40 million of Burma’s total 60 million citizens — concentrated in and around Rangoon. Similarly, any economic changes would impact the same people. But 20 million ethnic minorities, living the majority of the country’s land mass, are still subject to conflict and mass atrocities as the map shows.
We fear there is a real risk that rewarding the center now will simply enable continued abuses in all the other areas of the country, and erase the 20 million people who live there. We need to keep them on the map, and insist on political processes that enfranchise them and bring lasting peace to their regions.