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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Kachins in Burma

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Burma Facts
Area:    676,552 sq. km.
Capital:    Rangoon
Total Population:    47,305,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References



Risk Assessment

The Kachin have three of the five factors that increase the chances of future rebellion: territorial concentration, a high level of group organization, and government repression. Factors that could limit future rebellion include the junta's negotiation of ceasefire agreements with three prominent Kachin organizations – Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), New Democratic Army – Kachin (NDA-K), and Kachin Defense/Democratic Army (KDA) – coupled with its superior military force, which has severely limited the activities of the few remaining non-ceasefire organizations. The ceasefire deals have provided the ethnic groups with some local control and promises of economic development. Whether these provisions are fulfilled or not will also likely influence the prospects of future anti-state actions.

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Analytic Summary

Group members are concentrated in Burma's northern mountain region in Kachin state and in some northern parts of Shan state (GROUPCON = 3). The Kachin have resided in these areas for more than 200 years. There are also Kachins in neighboring India (Assam and Arunachal Pradesh) and China (Yunnan).

The most significant difference between the Kachin and the majority Burman community is religion. The Kachin largely adhere to Christian (predominantly Baptist) beliefs, while the Burmans, who comprise 68% of the country’s population, follow Theravada Buddhism (BELIEF = 2). Although Buddhism is not the official state religion, in recent decades the military junta has sought to elevate its status to the detriment of the country's religious minorities. Group members speak Kachin and its various dialects, while the official national language is Burmese (LANG = 1). The social customs of the Kachin are different from those of the majority Burman population (CUSTOM = 1).

Christian missionaries first came into contact with the Kachin during British colonial rule (1886-1947), and they converted many group members to Catholicism and Protestantism. Political activism by the Kachin arose shortly after Burma became independent. By the mid-1950s, the Kachin were engaged in rebellion against the state, and conventional protest activities began in the early 1960s (REB55X = 4; PROT60X = 2). As with other opposition groups that challenged the state, the imposition of military rule in 1962 made their situation more precarious.

In 1994, after some 40 years of armed conflict, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) reached a ceasefire agreement with the junta. A number of factors were likely involved in the KIO's decision, including war weariness in the face of superior military forces, the desire to promote economic development in group-majority areas, and reported pressure from China. The Chinese, in an effort to improve economic relations with the junta, halted their assistance to the Kachin in the late 1980s. Since then the Burmese armed forces have more than doubled in size, now numbering 400,000. Chinese military assistance to the junta, in the forms of arms and training, has been critical.

The Kachin face numerous demographic stresses. These include deteriorating health conditions and declining caloric intake which are partially the result of the widespread use of heroin which has also facilitated the spread of HIV/AIDS. Kachin state is located in the Golden Triangle, a region which is a major producer of the world’s heroin. While group members are primarily engaged in agriculture, it is not clear to what extent they are involved in cultivating opium. In addition, dispossession from their land, forced internal resettlement, and forced labor have occurred when the government launched infrastructure projects. Most recently, the central government has confiscated lands and then sold access to mineral resources in Kachin state to foreign (usually Chinese) companies, often without consulting or compensating local populations. These populations, then, are effectively closed off from traditional as well as new economic opportunities and faced with the social and environmental consequences of extraction industries.

As with other Christian groups in the country, the Kachin are subject to various cultural and religious restrictions. There are also limitations on the teaching and publishing of Kachin dialects. Instruction in all state schools is conducted in Burmese, even in areas where ethnic groups form a majority of the population (CULP02 = 2). Kachin state has been "deliberately neglected" by the Burmese central government when it comes to issues of economic development and, as noted above, suffers from continued neglect as well as frequently repressive economic policies (ECDIS06 = 4). The Kachin's limited political participation stems from social exclusion by the Burmans (POLDIS06 = 3).

Despite the ceasefire agreements, the Burmese military has expanded its military presence in Kachin state in recent years (REPGENCIV04 = 3; REPGENCIV05-06 = 2). Moreover, while Kachin organizations were invited to take part in the most recent National Constitutional Convention, which commenced in 2004, these organizations' concerns and interests have largely been ignored by the Burmese government.

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References

The Europa Yearbook, Far East and Australasia 1993.

Far Eastern Economic Review, 1990-94.

Images Asia Environment Desk, Pan Kachin Development Society. 2004. "At What Price? Gold Mining in Kachin State, Burma.” Chiang Mai, Thailand: Nopburee Press.

International Crisis Group. 2003. “Myanmar Backgrounder: Ethnic Minority Politics.” Asia Report No. 52.

Kachin Development Networking Group. 2007. "Valley of Darkness: Gold Mining and Militarization in Burma's Hugawng Valley."

Keesings Record of World Events, 1990-94.

LexisNexis Library Information, 1990-2006

Phase I, Minorities at Risk, overview compiled by Monty G. Marshall, 06/89.

Taylor, R.H., "Change in Burma: Political Demands and Military Power", Asian Affairs, Vol. XXII, June 1991.

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Information current as of December 31, 2006