(Analysis) – A number of commentators last week noted more news coverage of Kachin State in the state-run Burmese press, especially an editorial that blamed Kachin “hard-liners” for blocking progress in the on-going peace negotiations between the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the government.
“Eternal peace in Kachin State is still a pipe dream for the nationalities there due to some hardline leaders in spite of three rounds of peace talks between the union level peace making group and the KIO,” said an editorial in The New Light of Myanmar this week.
Nicholas Farrelly, in an article on the New Mandala website, listed seven news articles about Kachin State in the state-run media in recent weeks, ranging from coverage of the Water Festival in Myitkyina, the opening of a golf tournament, the opening of a rural library, the opening of new roads, a vocational training course, etc., compared essentially to no news stories from Kachin State during the past year. What does the change signify?
In the murky, purpose-driven news world of Burmese state-run media, the news coverage probably has significance – but exactly what is anyone’s guess.
Joshua Kurlantzick, a fellow at the U.S. Council of Foreign Relations, writes that the state media blitz maybe “suggests that the government may no longer be trying to downplay the conflict, and may instead be trying to wins hearts and minds both in the Kachin area and among the majority Burman population for its handling of the fighting, in order to isolate Kachin regions from the broader reform effort and possibly split them from sympathy in the National League for Democracy (NLD).”
In his analysis, Kurlantzick notes that fighting and human rights violations continue in the area, raising the question whether President Thein Sein’s government has control of the military commanders in the area.
“This lack of control would be a highly disturbing trend but not surprising, given the fact that Thein Sein is not respected by all field commanders and that field commanders have a long history of being able to run regional commands with sizable autonomy,” he said.
Farrelly in New Mandala also noted reports, which are hard to verify, of high causalities in the Kachin conflict, with one KIA source claiming 3,000 Burmese soldiers have been killed in recent fighting. He said that could mean – even if the war is ended – it could be “harder and harder for an effective post-war settlement to be crafted, since both sides are losing so many people that acrimony could keep any real peace from emerging.”
The Kachin Independence Organization is the last major holdout among the ethnic armed groups to sign a peace agreement with the government. With the successful by-election completed, the ethnic conflict remains the single most significant issue which could upset the government’s goal to have sanctions against the country removed.
If the government senses that it will not be unable to conclude a quick agreement with the KIO – for whatever reasons – the recent news coverage may be its latest effort in its well-known divide and rule strategy.