Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Kachin Leaders to Form Political Party

The Irrawaddy News

Leaders of ethnic Kachin ceasefire groups have formed an umbrella group to lobby Kachin people to cooperate in creating a new political party, according to sources in Burma’s northernmost state.

The group includes leaders of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K) and the Kachin Consultative Committee (KCC). The group was formed in July and is led by Tu Ja, deputy chairman of the KIO, said sources.

Lt-Gen Gauri Zau Seng, the KIO’s deputy chairman and foreign affairs representative, told The Irrawaddy by phone: “It is a first step towards lobbying Kachin people to cooperate with other parties in Kachin State for when we are allowed to form a political party.”

However, the group is not yet sure that it will be permitted by Burma’s ruling junta to form a political party to contest the general election scheduled to take place sometime in 2010.

The group currently has at least 50 members, with the KIO and NDA-K represented by 10 members each, said Zau Seng. The remaining members are from the KCC or are civilians unaffiliated with any group. The new group has not yet been named.

“If we are able to form a political party, the name of the group will be officially given,” said Zau Seng.

The group plans to appeal to Kachin people to be unified and support the formation of a political party. The members will perform their duties through a transition period which will last from now until the formation of the political party.

The Kachin leaders introduced the umbrella group on July 23 in Laiza, a town near the border with China. About 800 people, including civilians and members of the KIO, NDA-K and KCC, attended the meeting.

Ma Grang, who was present at the meeting, said he didn’t think that the group would easily succeed in its efforts to win popular support for a new political party.

Ma Grang, who is close to KIO leaders, said that they raised the possibility of forming the group in May. However, many lower-ranking members of the KIO and the Kachin Independence Army, the military wing of the KIO, expressed opposition to the proposal.

Due to the disagreement, the KIO leaders are seeking an alternative way to form a political party, said Ma Grang.

The KIO, founded in 1961, was one of 17 ethnic armed groups that signed a ceasefire agreement with the ruling junta in 1990s.

Burmese military authorities have been urging the ceasefire groups to surrender—in effect, lay down their weapons—and form political parties. An alternative option for the ceasefire groups would be to enlist their troops as special combat police, said sources.

However, most of the ethnic ceasefire groups are undecided as to whether they should disarm and form political parties to contest the Burmese general election.

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