Time for Thein Sein to come clean about Burmese losses in Kachin state


Burma-army-soldiers-die-in-Kachin-warSenior officials from the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) have told the Kachin News Group that the number of Burmese troops who have died during the now 15-month long Kachin conflict is in the thousands and could be as high as 10,000. The KIO's own estimates are said to be very rough and the KIO does not appear to be confident enough in these figures to publicly release them.  Because of the very nature of the hit and run tactics used by the KIO's armed wing the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) against the Burmese military, it is very difficult for the KIO to calculate Burmese losses.

A KIA commander based near Bhamo (or Manmaw), disclosed to the Kachin News Group how the estimates were made, “every battle we have with Burmese troops their casualties are much higher than ours.   Some battles saw less than 10 soldiers killed and sometimes up to 50 soldiers were killed.  On average, 5 to 7 Burmese soldiers were killed in every battle”, he said.  The KIA is believed to have had 1,000 separate armed clashes with the Burmese army since the conflict began.

The KIO's figures are only very rough estimates however, guerrilla fighters don't have often have the luxury of sticking around after an attack to count how many troops they've hurt or killed, doing so would be suicidal.  Furthermore many Burmese troops are seriously injured and then evacuated for treatment.  Given the army's poor track record for treating their own injured troops it is presumed that large numbers of them die while receiving medical treatment, but the KIO is unlikely to have access to any of this information other than what captured Burmese troops or defectors tell them.

Presumably Burma's military knows how many of their own troops have died in the fighting just as the KIO knows they've lost more than 700 of their own men since June 2011 when the conflict began.  According to KIO officials of the 700 KIA troops who have died since the conflict began at least 200 were killed in from accidents involving landmines planted by the KIA, further proof if any was needed of the absolute futility of war.

While in Cambodia for July's ASEAN conference President Thien Sein told Financial Times reporter Gwen Robinson that the loss of soldiers from both the government side and the KIO was a concern for him. "When a Kachin soldier or soldier from the national army dies, in both cases it's a Myanmar citizen who dies - so it's a loss to the whole country," Thein Sein said.

It is hard to take to Thein Sein seriously however when his government and the military which he ostensibly controls keeps sending young conscripts to run through mine fields to attack the KIO.  According to senior KIO officials the number of government soldiers believed killed during the ongoing fighting is said to rival or in fact surpass the total number of government troops killed during the first phase of the KIO's conflict with the Burmese military, 1961-1994.  If this indeed is true, responsibility for these deaths must lie with Thein Sein as the military offensive against the KIO began three months after his nominally civilian government took power.

Burma's public has a right to know how many soldiers have been killed during the Kachin conflict, a war that is taking up large amounts of the national budget which could be spent on far better things like health care and education.  Aung San Suu Kyi whose father was the founder of Burma's modern army has a duty as opposition leader to push the Thein Sein government to reveal the number of young Burmese men who have died during the army's increasingly brutal campaign to crush the KIO.  Sadly the Nobel Peace Prize Winner seems far more interested in issuing vague platitudes about army than getting to the bottom of what's going on in Kachin state.