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Myanmar: Kachin guerrillas turn down Suu Kyi’s offer to broker peace

Why help from one of Asia’s best-known dissidents isn’t always welcome.

A full 20 months into a civil war inside her homeland, dissident-turned-parliamentarian Aung San Suu Kyi says she’ll help ethnic guerrillas and government officials broker peace.

The guerrilla army’s response?

No, thanks.

For those with a cursory understanding of Suu Kyi and the political temperature inside Myanmar (formerly titled Burma) this may seem baffling.

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Isn’t she the voice of dissidence inside her troubled nation?

Isn’t she beloved by all of the nation’s downtrodden as the best hope for lasting peace?

Not exactly.

The conflict in question is a battle between government forces and a largely Christian ethnic faction, the Kachin Independence Army or KIA. During World War II, the Kachin were war buddies with the US.

For an breakdown of the war’s ties to America, paired with footage from the front, check out GlobalPost’s recent piece “Never-ending war on the Chinese border?”

Suu Kyi — America’s self-proclaimed “principal interlocutor” and probably the most famous Burmese person on the planet — recently offered to help broker peace, according to this Associated Press report. Suu Kyi had this to say:

“I have been criticized by some people for not taking part in peace talks regarding the Kachin conflict. I have always said I am willing to take part in the peace process if the concerned parties wanted me to.” 

But according to the news outlet Democratic Voice of Burma, the Kachin army is unconvinced that she’s truly impartial.

To fully understand why this human rights icon has been rather silent on a nasty jungle war in her own country, you have to understand this.

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In the international media, and among Western diplomats, the Kachin are typically regarded with sympathy.

But in Myanmar’s halls of power, and in its press, the Kachin guerrillas are often regarded as terrorists. Attempting to hammer out a ceasefire with so-called “terrorists” is one thing. Commiserating with them is another.

Add to that a sense among many senior guerrilla leaders that Suu Kyi is too closely aligned with the authorities they are sworn to resist.

In Western circles, harsh critcism of Suu Kyi remains taboo. But in my recent interview with a KIA colonel, James Lum Dau, he described Suu Kyi as a mere pawn of President Thein Sein used to placate America.

“Thein Sein is president. His job is to elevate Aung San Suu Syi to the outside world,” he said. “For them to come up, they have to elevate the status of Aung San Suu Kyi.

“Then you Americans will say, “Oh, it’s so great! Economic sanctions must be lifted!”

“This,” he said, “is their strategy.”

Suu Kyi may be America’s go-to interlocutor. But for now at least, its mountain-dwelling war buddies of yesteryear, the KIA, are suggesting she take her interlocution elsewhere.