Kachin peace deal offers hope to abused Burmese Christians

June 6, 2013 by  
Filed under newsletter-lead

Thein Sein and Barack Obama met at the White House last monthBurma, June 05, 2013: A tentative peace deal has been reached after two years of brutal conflict in Kachin state, offering hope to the predominantly Christian people who have suffered grave abuses at the hands of the Burmese military.

A seven-point plan was signed by Kachin and government representatives on Thursday (30 May). They have agreed to stop fighting and there will be further talks about the repositioning of troops.

The two sides also agreed to political talks over the future of the Kachin people, who want more rights and autonomy after years of oppression.

The Burmese army launched its latest offensive in Kachin state in June 2011, breaking a 17-year ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO).

The conflict has displaced nearly 100,000 people and has been characterised by severe human rights abuses. Children have been killed, women raped, people tortured, at least 66 churches burnt down and around 200 villages destroyed. There have been calls for the atrocities to be investigated as potential war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Christian sources in Kachin said that the peace agreement was an “important step” and that they were “cautiously optimistic” but stressed that the concerns of ethnic minorities must be addressed before real peace can be achieved.

Burma has received much international acclaim for the democratic progress it has made since the transfer of power to a quasi-civilian government in 2011 but little has been said about the continued abuse of the country’s ethnic minority groups, which comprise 40% of the population.

US President Barack Obama controversially hosted Burmese President Thein Sein at the White House on 20 May, before the Kachin peace deal had been negotiated. While he called on Mr Sein to stop the ethnic killings of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state, he seemingly made no mention of the abuse of the mainly Christian Kachin people.

Using for the first time “Myanmar”, the name given to Burma by the country’s military rulers in the 1980s, Mr Obama praised the political and economic reform made under Mr Sein’s leadership. Human rights groups have criticised the US president for being too quick to rehabilitate Burma, which, though it has made some welcome progress, still has a long way to go before it can be considered democratic after decades of military rule.

– barnabas team

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