The government has been in conflict with ethnic minorities, such as the Kachin, Karen and Shan, since independence in 1948. Longstanding ceasefires collapsed two years ago as it tried to bring their militias under national army control and while Myanmar President Thein Sein promised this spring to make the issue a national priority, an upsurge in fighting followed.
In recent weeks, authorities have reached ceasefires or deals with several groups. However, the Kachin are particularly wary. The Kachin Independence Organization — allied to the Kachin Independence Army — agreed to participate in the government’s political roadmap in the 1990s and cooperated even when its proposals were ignored. Yet Kachin candidates were blocked from standing in last year’s elections and the government became hostile, declaring the ceasefire null and void.
Kachin grievances have been exacerbated by government-backed projects that displaced inhabitants and brought them little benefit: “With the [Myitsone] dam, mining, other infrastructure — there’s a sense of being politically marginalized and exploited at the same time,” Human Rights Watch researcher David Mathieson said.