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Yohei Sasakawa
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First Officially Approved Visit to Key Northern Myanmar City in 74 Years (2) [2020/04/06]

On my way to Laiza, we passed banana plantations here and there where I could see green bags full of bananas.   

Even though I received official authorization from both State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services of Myanmar, the Chinese side exerted pressure on local mediators to cancel my visit to Laiza even while I was in Myitkyina on the day before our planned departure. Scared by the pressure from the Chinese, the mediators were inclined to call off the trip.

But I strongly insisted that China has long committed itself to abstention from intervention or interference in the internal affairs of another country, as it stated at the 1955 Asian–African Conference, also known as the Bandung Conference. Stressing that Laiza, though part of the conflict area, is clearly Myanmar territory and that I had received the formal green light from both the government and the military, I decided to proceed as scheduled. However, the original plan to drive to Laiza in a convoy of seven vehicles was scaled down. 

It took about two hours and a half to get from Myitkyina to Laiza by Land Cruiser.We were escorted by a vehicle of the Myanmar military up to the midpoint. There were five checkpoints. It usually takes 30 to 40 minutes to go through each of these checkpoints, but we went through quite smoothly thanks to our military escort. Roads near Myitkyina were neatly paved, but after an hour’s drive, it became clear we were going through villages deserted after years of armed conflict.

Strangely enough, we saw banana plantations everywhere, all of them apparently looted after farmers fled in the wake of years of fighting. The soil had obviously degraded considerably, which must be heart-breaking for the displaced farmers driven from their land. Even in this area of Kachin State, we felt that governance was not functioning well.

After driving an hour and half, we reached a truce line. Security arrangements were not as tight as I had expected.

After the Land Cruiser traversed the shallow river marking the truce line, I saw sand mounds here and there that were left over from dredging for gold dust.

There is no knowing just how much area Kachin’s ethnic armed group, the biggest among some 10 groups that have not signed the NCA, controls in the state. The state is rich in lumber and mineral resources as well as jade favored by the Chinese, while the area under the ethnic group seems to be well administered: they have collected taxes for years and operate universities and prisons.

But seeing is believing. This part of Kachin State shares a border with China. I went to a small rocky river, only about 20 meters wide, separating the two countries. I have heard that television programs are broadcast in Chinese, and people use the renminbi, or Chinese yuan, and passports issued by the Chinese authorities. I have come to understand clearly that as a result of seven decades of armed conflict, the Chinese now wield absolute power over the area controlled by the EAOs. In the corners of a small town, some persons were busy filming us as we drove by. In order to avoid unnecessary skirmishes, I toured the town without alighting from my vehicle and headed for the IDP camps.

I visited three camps near Laiza, where I heard all the IDPs voice a desire to go home. When I entered classrooms of a temporary elementary school without prior notice, schoolchildren in every classroom all stood up immediately and greeted me with a polite bow. I was surprised that, starting at first grade, they were learning four languages: Kachin, Burmese, Chinese and English. They listened to me intently as I was the first Japanese they had seen. They responded enthusiastically when I said to them, “Take care of your parents.”


The first checkpoint on my way to Laiza.


Roads are well paved near Myitkyina.


This was once a large village, but it has been deserted by residents after the armed conflict between the military and ethnic armed groups intensified.


Residents deserted this village in the wake of fighting that took place in 2011.  


Crossing the shallow rocky river, we passed the truce line.


Evidence of dredging for gold dust

(To be continued)

Posted by Y.Sasakawa at 09:00 | MYANMAR | URL | comment(0)