More From Alder's Ledge

June 20, 2013

A Liar's Promise

Fate Of Kachin Still Hangs In Thin Air
(The Darkness Visible series)

"A lasting solution, the possibility to begin a new life, is the only dignified solution for the refugee himself."
~ Poul Hartling

What is the value of a promise made by somebody who has lied to you time and time before? How much weight do those words carry with you? Trust is not a measure of how much that person is respected by others but by how much they have earned it from you personally. It cannot be purchased through goodwill gestures offered at the expense of someone else. It can't be manipulated by the assurances of others. It must be earned by the person who has betrayed you in the past. For history is the best indicator of future behavior. It cannot be ignored even by the most credulous of individuals. And it most certainly is never ignored in the heat of battle.

For two years the Kachin people have been fighting a brutal war against the aggressive Burmese military. In June of 2011 a 17 year old ceasefire fell apart as war returned to their lands. Children who had been born into the uneasy peace were now ripped away from the homes they once knew. Their families, their neighbors, their villages; all was put in jeopardy by the callousness of Myanmar's generals. For two years the Kachin have simply been trying to survive.

This month a rickety agreement was reached and for the time the Burmese government seems willing to hold back it's old military rulers. In the meantime the Kachin people are forced to hold out on the other side of battle line. 100,000 internally displaced peoples remain under the fog of war. Food remains scarce and water is still a daily struggle for most. Despite agreements, these internally displaced peoples cannot return home.

Two years of war has meant that Kachin children have had no real access to an education. Some 40,000 estimated Kachin children have not received a formal education since the fighting broke out two years ago. Those who have received any form of schooling have received only minor support from NGOs and charity organizations who work around Myanmar's restrictions on the Kachin people. And yet even with the peace plan still holding, these 40,000 (est.) children are still suffering from a lack of teachers and schools in the Kachin region.

The outbreak of war in the Kachin region has led to increased vulnerability of Kachin women and children to the crime of human trafficking. With a price tag running up to $6,500 USD for each victim, the traffickers that operate along the Burmese-China border have stepped up their operations since June of 2011. Utilizing illegal trade routes the criminals transport Kachin women and girls as far as the eastern shores of China, selling them into slavery or forced marriages. Those who manage to escape are at times assisted by Chinese authorities in their attempt to return home to the Kachin region. Myanmar on the other hand does nothing to help Kachin victims, the Burmese anti-trafficking liaison office along the border does not even appear to be manned. Thus not one case of a Kachin trafficking victim contacting Myanmar authorities has yet to be reported.

Continued occupation of Kachin lands has led to confiscation of Kachin farms and villages by the Burmese authorities. These plots of valuable land have been turned into state sponsored mass agricultural projects (plantations), unregistered and unregulated gold mining operations, and foreign investment projects. One NGO even managed to document cases that have led to around 3,500 Kachin people being evicted forcibly by the Burmese military in the past few years alone. These villagers now have very limited options on how to provide for their families and future. All as a result of the seemingly lawlessness of the Kachin region under Burmese military occupation.

All of these things are promised to end soon. That is if we are to believe the government of Myanmar. This would mean that we are to believe a government that has continuously lied when talking about the Kachin region and it's people. Where the Burmese government has promised peace it has delivered unmitigated brutality and aggression. When the government promised to combat the exploitation of minorities, especially when dealing with human trafficking, it has created the "perfect storm" for criminal enterprise. To those Burma promised protection, education, and social services it has offered only homelessness, helplessness, and neglect in the worst degree.

The only token of goodwill that Myanmar has given the people of the Kachin in two years was the small gesture of allowing a UN convoy to pass through the front lines of the Kachin conflict zone. This week members from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), UN Children's Fund, UNICEF, and World Food Programme managed to break the siege for the first time in over a year. Delivering food, water, medical aid, humanitarian supplies, and urgent care the United Nations convoy pushed into the Kachin region unmolested. This was the first sign that Myanmar could tolerate some form of compassion being shown to it's enemies. It was the first token of goodwill shown by Burma in two miserable years of fighting in the Kachin.

But once again, what is the value of a promise when it comes from a liar? How much weight can one put to the words of a bitter enemy? Can trust be earned by flimsy documents and cheapened promises? Or will only time be capable of telling whether or not the government of Myanmar is lying once again?

"It is not the oath that makes us believe the man, but the man the oath."

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Source Documents
(note: not all sources listed)

Democratic Voice of Burma

United Nations OCHA

Mizzima News

Thomson Reuters Foundation

Kachin Women's Association Thailand

Irrawaddy News

Open Society Foundations

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