Kachin State is Myanmar’s northernmost territory, and fighting there between the Kachin Independence Army and the Myanmar Army has displaced over 120,000 people since 2011. The first fighting there began in 1962, and lasted 32 years. It was but one of more than a dozen ethnically-driven insurgencies that have ground on since Burma achieved independence from Britain in 1948. Some consider the wars a legacy of decolonization, and dashed hopes of federalism.
The Kachin’s are mainly Christian in an otherwise Buddhist-majority country. A 1994 ceasefire agreement with the ruling junta in Yangon gave some degree of autonomy, but a workable peace framework did not materialize under continuing military rule. In 2011, fighting broke out once again. Many internally displaced people have been confined to refugee camps, seeking shelter from the warfare again afflicting their land.
The conflict has had some international ramifications. China is keen to promote its hugely ambitious One Belt One Road (OBOR) masterplan with numerous regional infrastructure projects, but this is being impeded in places like Danai, Moe Kaung, Phakant, Wai Maw, Sum Pro Bum, and Ing Gyang Yang that areaffected by fighting. China’s Ledo Road project, a key OBOR initiative for Myanmar, has been affected by the fighting.
In what some describe as a ‘natural resource curse’, the local economy has become reliant again on opium cultivation and smuggled timber, gold, jade, and amber. Despite the election in 2016 of a civilian government led by Nobel peace
prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, observers detect no reduction in the fighting, or any promise of a better future for the long-suffering Kachin’s.