Ex-NLD MP urges Obama to skip Burma visit citing Kachin conflict

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Exiled Kachin politician Duwa Maran Zau Awng recently sent US president Barack Obama an open letter urging that he not visit Burma next week because of the military's ongoing offensive in Kachin state. According to human rights groups the military’s campaign against the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) has seen the army commit numerous atrocities against Kachin civilians.

“It's not the right time” says the now exiled politician who won a seat in parliament representing the Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) in the May 1990 election, the results of which were annulled by the military.

Reached by phone in Florida where he now lives Duwa Maran Zau Awng told the Kachin News Group that the reformist credentials of Burma's nominally civilian government have been overstated. “President Thein Sein is a liar. He is not implementing a genuine change that alters the military's role in the country. Instead he's killing innocent Kachin people,” said the former political prisoner who was jailed from 1997 to 2001 for opposing Than Shwe's regime.

Burma's armed forces attacked the KIO in June of the last year some three months after Thein Sein, a former general and close ally of the officially retired Than Shwe took office. Over the last 17 months Thein Sein has twice publicly ordered the military not to conduct offensive actions against the KIO, however the military has continued to attack KIO positions, routinely killing and maiming Kachin civilians in the process. An estimated 100,000 Kachin civilians are believed to have been displaced by the fighting which began in June 2011 when the army unilaterally ended a 17-year ceasefire with KIO.

Another concern for Duwa Maran Zau Awng is the fact that Burma's government has prevented the UN and other international groups from sending humanitarian aid to a series of internally displaced people's camps located in KIO territory along the China Burma border. The situation in these camps is said to be increasingly difficult for the Kachin civilians caught up in the ongoing civil war.

Now 81 years old, Duwa Maran Zau Awng was born into a Kachin aristocratic family during British colonial rule. When he was 16 he attended the Panglong talks in February 1947 where traditional rulers from the Kachin, Shan and Chin ethnic communities signed a potentially far reaching agreement with General Aung San. The agreement which Duwa Maran Zau Awng's family supported promised Burma's ethnic nationalities a fair amount of autonomy over their own affairs in exchange for their support for Burma’s independence.

Aung San’s assassination just months later brought an end to most of what had been agreed to at Panglong, his successor U Nu never fully implemented the agreement in particular the promise of local autonomy. U Nu did pay superficial homage to Panglong by making the annual anniversary of the agreement a national holiday in 1953.



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