KBC Chairman Discusses Returning IDPs With Burma Army Chief

Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) Rev Dr Hkalam Samson and six other KBC representatives met with Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces, in Kachin State’s capital, Myitkyina, where they discussed returning displaced Kachin, the peace process and the Myitsone dam project, among other things.

What was discussed during the meeting with the Army Chief?

Min Aung Hlaing discussed problems during the recent general election as compared to the 2010 and 2015 races, when there were fewer issues, while highlighting challenges faced during campaigning because of COVID-19. He was upset that polling was canceled in nine townships in Rakhine State. With the mediation of Mr Sasakawa from the Nippon Foundation, Min Aung Hlaing explained that they would have an election in Rakhine State. He also discussed overcoming obstacles caused by the pandemic.

What did Min Aung Hlaing say about the peace process?

It’s a little odd that he didn’t discuss the army’s six principle policy at this meeting. He said the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) began after the conference in Laiza. And he was upset that some of the ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) who attended the Laiza conference signed the NCA but not Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/A). Min Aung Hlaing said that no country has declared a unilateral ceasefire, but the Burma Army did so because they want to make peace in Burma. It’s also why they recognize Laiza as the headquarters of the KIO/A. And why they didn’t launch a military offensive to take it. If EAOs continued to fight, there would be no solution, he said. Therefore, EAOs need to participate in the peace process, establish democracy, work for the people and ethnic affairs.

What was your response to Min Aung Hlaing’s comments?

We’re not a political organization but one thing that we find confusing is why the internally displaced persons (IDPs) cannot return to their villages. There has been no conflict for over two years and IDPs are asking to go home. That’s why we started the process to help them get back. If they do, it is proof there’s peace. But if they wait until they receive international assistance, it will take longer, and by then their farmland will disappear. And this will change the way they live and cause many social problems. IDPs, therefore, need to return on their own terms. The most important thing to facilitate this would be to remove all the landmines from around the villages. We discussed this with Min Aung Hlaing, and we also need to talk to KIO/A about it.

Did Min Aung Hlaing offer to help the IDPs return home?

He said they would help remove landmines from the area. As I understand it, the Burma Army is affiliated with the Nippon Foundation and can request assistance from the foundation.

What did you discuss about the Myitsone dam project?

It seemed like Min Aung Hlaing didn’t like the idea of building the Myitsone Dam. Although he said he’d agree if it was built on a tributary of the river on the upper part. I also said that we expected more people to agree in this case but didn’t say that all people would accept it. As KBC leader, I understand if we want to do something that all stakeholders need to accept it. We need to listen to the people. Most importantly, I explained during the meeting that we are strongly opposed to the Myitsone Dam. After the NLD came into power, a commission was established for the dam project. Because the NLD government is a ‘civilian government’, the army cannot do whatever it wants. That’s why I’m not worried. If people oppose the dam, China won’t build it.

Min Aung Hlaing will be 65 next year. And many are wondering if he’ll retire soon. After meeting with him, what do you think?

I think Min Aung Hlaing still wants to be a leader either in politics or the military. For example, he said that people who join the revolutionary movement are the real politicians, and listed KIO leaders Gen Gam Shawng and Maj-Gen Gunmaw. Min Aung Hlaing served as commander-in-chief for 10 years and he’s been in the army under various titles for 40 years. Because he discussed economic and political issues during the meeting, I predict he still wants to be involved with the military and politics.

What expectations do you have after meeting with the Army Chief?

We said that if the Burma army does not interfere with the return of internally displaced persons to their homes it will be beneficial. We’ll see if they’ll block or they’ll help the IDPs. Because we could discuss this openly with Min Aung Hlaing during the meeting it was a positive sign.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

There are many different opinions about what was said during the meeting. But we don’t need to worry about this or feel afraid. We just have to try our best to keep the process going. We’ll never agree one-hundred percent about everything. I just want to suggest for everyone to work together for the betterment of all.

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