EAOs Cautious About Collaboration With Govt’s COVID-19 Coordination Committee, Insiders Say

Gen. Gunhtang Gam Shawng, Chief of Staff of KIO’s armed wing Kachin Independence Army, visited to the Covid-19 quarantine center in its de fecto capital Laiza, last month in Kachin State, northern Burma. Photo: KIA

The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) replied to and acknowledged the Burmese government’s official letter announcing the formation of a COVID-19 coordination committee in ethnic regions, but further actions to collaborate have not been taken by either party.

Col Hing Wawm, head of the KIO’s health department and secretary of its existing COVID-19 prevention committee confirmed the response.

“They sent this letter to all organizations. That’s why we replied that we received their letter. We didn’t write about any [further] mechanisms,” he told KNG, adding, “We are also working on COVID-19 prevention with the guidelines of our headquarters.”

As part of its “No One Left Behind” Policy to fighting COVID-19, the government formed a committee to collaborate with ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) on April 27 and informed them on April 28.

The committee of four members met with representatives EAOs signatory to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement at the National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) in Yangon one week later.

Lamai Gum Ja, who is working with the Kachin Peace-talk Creation Group PCG, said that other non-NCA signatories have not yet sent substantial replies, because further action is not on the table at the moment.

“The EAOs have not replied in detail. [The government] didn’t invite them for discussions. In the letter, they stated how to solve the problem if the virus is found in the EAOs’ areas. They sent preventative campaign posters,” Lamai Gum Ja told KNG.

The KIO has restricted travel to internally displaced persons camps, set up quarantine centers to monitor possible patients, and shut down border crossings in its territory in an effort to prevent the virus from spreading into the area.

“We have built a hospital. We have built a quarantine center. We have built medical checkpoints. We have prepared an ICU. We are trying our best for COVID-19 prevention,” Col Hing Wawm told KNG.

When KIO discovered its first suspected case of COVID-19 in the area of its Laiza headquarters, they sent test swabs to China for analysis.

According to the government’s statement on the coordination committee formation, if a COVID-19 case is found in an EAO’s control area, “EAOs need to cooperate in accordance with guidelines of the NRPC.”

Since the head of the coordination committee, Dr. Tin Myo Win, is also vice-chairman of the government’s NRPC, EAO representatives are concerned that the committee represents a government attempt to interfere with their administration of their territory.

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