Activists begin a long walk to a rebel base in Burma’s war-torn Kachin state to push for peace.
About 30 Burmese activists set off Monday on a march to the besieged headquarters of rebels fighting for greater autonomy in northern Kachin state in a bid to press for an end to the long running ethnic conflict.
They said they expect to cover the 800-mile (1,300-kilometer) walk from Burma’s commercial capital Rangoon to Laiza, the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), in about two months, during which they hope to gather more participants and step up their peace campaign.
The walk-for-peace began as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made a call at the weekend for serious efforts to end the conflict, which rages on despite an order by President Thein Sein to the military to stop its offensive in the key Lajayang area near the China border where fighting has been most intense in recent weeks.
China also sent a senior official to Burma at the weekend for talks with Thein Sein in a bid to push for a ceasefire amid concerns over falling bombs in its territory, according to reports.
The KIA said government forces were firing at rebel positions in Lajayang and their base in Laiza town about six miles (10 kilometers) away even though the Thein Sein administration announced a unilateral ceasefire from Saturday morning.
«We are marching in an effort to stop the fighting as the people, including ethnic groups and Buddhist monks, want no war in this country,» activist Ko Khine Nay Min told RFA’s Burmese service as he and others set off on the walk to Laiza.
«We want to request the government to stop fighting. We also would like to ask the Kachin armed group to stop fighting if they are concerned about the casualties of the war.»
The exact number of casualties in the fighting that has intensified in recent weeks is not known, but the government said Friday that 35 soldiers had been killed and 190 injured in a series of ambushes by the rebels since 2011, in the first official death toll for the military’s side.
Tens of thousands of ethnic Kachins have been displaced by the fighting after a 17-year cease-fire between the government and Kachin rebels collapsed in June 2011. Many of them are in camps in or near Laiza.
Ko Khine Nay Min said he did not expect the authorities to stop the march.
Thirteen activists who participated with over 1,000 others in a Sept. 21 march in Rangoon calling for peace in Kachin State have been repeatedly summoned to local police stations and courts on charges they violated a law which requires a permit for demonstrations, according to Human Rights Watch.
«If any group shoots us while we are marching, we will let them shoot,» Ko Khine Nay Min said. «We will march an average of 25-30 miles (40-48 kilometers) a day. We hear that local people, students and social organizations will welcome us along the way to Laiza.»
KIA spokesman La Nan said government troops have secured vantage points to overrun key rebel positions.
«The military says there will be no more offensives but fighting in Kachin state, including Lajayang continues even right now,» he said.
China’s vice foreign minister Fu Ying and Thein Sein in talks at the weekend «agreed to maintain peace and stability of the border areas,» Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters, Agence France-Presse reported.
«China hopes that relevant parties can realize a ceasefire and start peace negotiations so as to restore peace and stability in the China-Myanmar [Burma] border areas.»
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi meanwhile said peace can be achieved only if there is cooperation and understanding between the warring factions.
«Most people are interested only in what they want and don’t see the needs of the other side and don’t respect and value their opinion. We won’t have peace with this kind of approach,» she said, without identifying any group.
Thein Sein had ordered a halt to military offensives against ethnic rebels last year and promised to work toward national reconciliation following decades of military rule in Burma but fighting has been ongoing in Shan, Kayin, and Kachin states.
The continued fighting had led to questions on how much control Thein Sein, a general during the previous military regime, exerts over the country’s army.
Since Thein Sein took office in March 2011, Burmese authorities have signed peace agreements with 10 armed ethnic groups, including ceasefires with Karen and Shan groups last year.
Reported by Ei Ei Khaine, Tin Aung Khaine, Win Naung Toe, and Myint Oo for RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.