Assessment for Kachins in Burma
|Publisher||Minorities at Risk Project|
|Publication Date||31 December 2000|
|Cite as||Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Kachins in Burma, 31 December 2000, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/469f3a601e.html [accessed 1 September 2015]|
The Kachin have two of the six factors that increase the chances of future rebellion: territorial concentration and a high level of support for group organizations. Factors that could limit future rebellion include the junta's negotiation of ceasefire agreements with fifteen of the country's ethnic groups including the Kachin coupled with its superior military force that has severely limited the activities of the few remaining rebel groups. The ceasefire deals have provided the ethnic groups with some local control and promises of economic development. Whether these provisions are fulfilled will also likely influence the prospects of future anti-state actions.
Group members are concentrated in Burma's northern mountain region in Kachin state and in some northern parts of Shan state. The Kachin have resided in these areas for more than two hundred years. There are also Kachins in neighboring Thailand and in China's Yunnan region.
The most significant difference between the Kachin and the majority Burman community is religion. The tribals largely adhere to Christian beliefs while the Burmans, who comprise 68% of the country=s population, follow Theravada Buddhism (BELIEF = 3). Although Buddhism is not the official state religion, in recent decades the military junta has sought to elevate its status to the detriment of the country's religious minorities. Group members speak Kachin and its various dialects but the official language is Burmese (LANG = 2). The social customs of the Kachin are similar to those of the northern Shan peoples (CUSTOM = 1)
Christian missionaries first came into contact with the Kachin during British colonial rule (1886-1947) and they converted many group members to Catholicism and Protestantism. Political activism by the Kachin arose shortly after Burma became independent. By the mid-1950s, the Kachin were engaged in rebellion against the state and conventional protest activities began in the early 1960s (REB55X = 4; PROT60X = 2). As with other opposition groups that challenged the state, the imposition of military rule in 1962 made their situation more precarious.
In 1994, after some forty years of armed conflict, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) reached a ceasefire agreement with the junta. A number of factors were likely involved in the KIO's decision including war weariness in the face of superior military forces, the desire to promote economic development in group-majority areas, and reported pressure from China. The Chinese, in an effort to improve economic relations with the junta, halted their assistance to the Kachin in the late 1980s. Since then the Burmese armed forces have more than doubled in size, now numbering 400,000. Chinese military assistance to the junta, in the forms of arms and training, has been critical.
The Kachin face numerous demographic stresses. These include deteriorating health conditions and declining caloric intake which are partially the result of the widespread use of heroin which has also facilitated the spread of HIV/AIDS. Kachin state is located in the Golden Triangle, a region which is a major producer of the world=s heroin. While group members are primarily engaged in agriculture, it is not clear to what extent they are involved in cultivating opium. In addition, dispossession from their land, forced internal resettlement, and forced labor have occurred when the government launched infrastructure projects.
As with other Christian groups in the country, the Kachin are subject to various cultural and religious restrictions. There are also limitations on the teaching and publishing of Kachin dialects. Instruction in all state schools is conducted in Burmese, even in areas where ethnic groups form a majority of the population. Historical neglect and/or restrictions account for economic discrimination, but public policies are in effect to improve the group's status (ECDIS00 = 1). The Kachin's limited political participation stems from social exclusion by the Burmans (POLDIS00 = 3).
While obtaining political rights such as broad autonomy is a significant issue for group members, economic and social concerns are the Kachin's major grievances (SEPX = 3). These include desires for greater public funds and economic opportunities, the freedom to practice their religion and culture, and the right to use their own language in interactions with government officials. Most of the Kachin support the conventional organizations that represent group interests. There has been little political activism by the Kachin in recent years (PROT98 = 1; PROT99-00 = 0; REB98-00 = 0).
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