A Brief Political Account of the Kachin
The Kachin people, comprising six different ethnic sub-groups, live mainly in north-eastern Burma, as well as parts of China and India. The Kachin in Burma are estimated to number between 1 - 1.5 million. Traditionally hill dwellers subsisting on rotational cultivation of hill rice, they used to be ruled by village and clan chiefs. The territory of Kachin State never came under direct British administration, nor had they been directly under the authority of the Burmese court before the Kachin Hill Tribes Regulation 1895 was introduced. However, many of the areas actually within the orbit of the Regulation were still governed through a system of indirect rule, which relied upon the authority of selected local chiefs and elders for the successful implementation of Government policy.
During British rule of Burma (from 1886 to 1948), most Kachin territory was specially administered as a frontier region (Kachin Hill Regulation 1895); Christianity spread among the Kachin at this time. When Burma gained independence in 1948, the northern mountainous extremity of Burma was designated as Kachin State, with an area of 34,379 square miles. Kachin people also live in Shan State.
After independence, many Kachin grew increasingly dissatisfied with the discriminatory policies of the central Burmese government. This led to the launch in 5th February 1961 of a Kachin armed resistance movement, which grew into one of the largest ethnic resistance forces, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO). Several decades of armed conflict ensued, causing displacement of many of the highland Kachin population down to the lowland areas of Kachin State. Today, over 80% of the state’s population live in the plains.
In 1994, the KIO signed a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese military regime, and was granted the right to continue maintaining its own administrative and military infrastructure in certain areas. Two other Kachin armed groups also have ceasefire agreements with the regime: the New Democratic Army (Kachin) (NDA-K), formerly part of the Communist Party of Burma, which operates on the northeast Kachin-China border, and the Kachin Defence Army (KDA), in northern Shan State, which broke away from the KIO in 1991 to make a separate ceasefire agreement with the regime.
The ceasefire agreements have unfortunately not led to a resolution of the political grievances underlying the decades-long conflict. Kachin State, like the rest of Burma, remains under military dictatorship, its people denied the democratic right to choose their government. The regime has taken advantage of the ceasefire agreements to increase its military presence in Kachin State. The number of Burma Army troops has tripled since 1994, with over 50 Burmese battalions now stationed in Kachin State. Burmese troops have increasingly been deployed in areas close to KIO military bases. The growing Burma Army presence has placed increased burdens on local populations, who have suffered land confiscation, extortion, forced labour and other abuses by Burmese military personnel.