Visiting an elementary school at a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) near Laiza, a key city in the northern Myanmar state of Kachin, on February 10, 2020. When I asked the children to raise their hands “if you love your mother and father,” all of them did and said “Yes.”
It has been seven years since I assumed the post of Special Envoy of the Government of Japan for National Reconciliation in Myanmar in 2013 with the aim of achieving a nationwide ceasefire and peace between the Myanmar government, the military and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs). While the previous government under then President Thein Sein, a retired army general, signed a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with eight EAOs, the current civil government led by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has only managed to sign the NCA with two EAOs.
The peace negotiations have since stalled, but I believe my role is to keep the peace talks going by working closely with both the government and the military, and the EAOs. During the past seven years, I have shuttled back and forth between them almost a hundred times.
No matter how fragile the situation is with no immediate results in sight, it is the basics of negotiation and essential for confidence-building that I continue to meet with all the stakeholders regularly.
In Myanmar, there have been conflicts between the government, the military and EAOs for seven long decades. The government and the military have had delicate relations with each other while some 20 EAOs have been through alliances and rivalries. In the absence of outstanding leaders on either side, efforts to find a solution have been like trying to solve highly complicated mathematical equations. But all sides are in agreement on one thing−the goal of creating a democratic federal republic that will emerge in the future for national reconciliation and union peace. This makes me convinced that we can surely achieve this goal no matter how long it might take.
In February, I went from Myitkyina in Kachin State in northern Myanmar to Laiza, the de facto capital of the EAO in the state. Except for those traveling from the Chinese side of the border, I was the first foreigner to visit Laiza with formal permission from both the government and the military since World War II ended 74 and a half years ago.
The Nippon Foundation and the Japanese government announced last December that they will provide a total of 500 million yen to support the return and resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kachin State. The money will be used for building 500 houses to resettle about 3,000 IDPs in the state as well as providing hygiene guidance, agricultural training and other income-generation support. Thus, my visit to Laiza was designed primarily to conduct an on-the-spot survey on how best we can assist the IDPs.
Talking with Kachin villagers. Water is supplied from a nearby mountain, but they lack detergent and other daily necessities. They say they want to go back to their village, five to six hours’ drive from the IDP camp.
(To be continued)