We Hope the Last Kachin Alive Continues to be Kachin

Posted by Admin Sunday, July 31, 2011
The Rev. Pungga Ja Li is a local Kachin historian and the author of several books on Kachin customs and culture. He is now living in Laiza, a town in Kachin State near the Chinese border that is under the control of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which is currently engaged in renewed fighting with Burmese government troops in the north of Burma. In this interview, conducted by The Irrawaddy reporter Ba Kaung in Laiza in early July, Pungga Ja Li reflects on the Kachin leaders’ decision to join with the Burmese majority a year before Burma gained its independence from British rule in 1948, and shares his views on the current armed clashes and the future of the Kachin people.

Kachin historian Pungga Ja Li (The Irrawaddy)

Question: How do you view the renewed conflict in Kachin State?
Answer: Apparently, this is a cloudy period for all of us. But this is good in a sense that many Kachins now remember God. Many, including the KIO leaders, are now saying prayers, and we are becoming more united within us. We are now praying for God's support, but he sometimes can be cruel for the sake of our maturity.
Q: Here in Laiza, there is talk that the Kachin made a mistake in joining with the Burmese majority when their leaders signed the Panglong Agreement. What is your opinion on this?
A: Many Kachin leaders in those days disagreed with Panglong, except Sama Duwa Sinwa Nawng and Zauring. The Kachin leaders wanted to stay under British rule for five more years and only afterward wanted to establish the Kachin State as an independent state. But since his own grandfather was killed by the British soldiers, Sama Duwa did not want to deal with the British any longer—he even slapped the ground and said that if he made a mistake, he would get struck by lightning from the heavens. That's how he won the trust of fellow Kachin leaders and signed the Panglong Agreement. Otherwise, we would have been on our own all along and would never have had anything to do with the Burmese. We have lived under our rule—the rule of Duwas. But even if we made a mistake, the Panglong Agreement itself is a good treaty, I think, with all the guarantees for us though they never materialized into realities.

Q: Do Kachins feel betrayed by Aung San, who organized the Panglong Conference? What is your personal view of his daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi?
A: I don't know what Aung San would have treated us to if he had lived. But he came to us for Burma's independence and years ago his daughter came to us again for Burma's democracy. I think Suu Kyi is a good leader, but when it comes to our affairs, she would only walk away with another Noble Prize but would never be able to come to our help.
Q: Do you regret the KIA's ceasefire with the government in 1994, given that it has not produced any political results for the Kachin.
A: In 1994, we hoped to hold discussions with the government officials for a political solution. But as you know, those discussions were more about chatting over drinks and meals—those discussions were never meaningful enough. On the other hand, the Kachins forgot to prepare the military side. Many forgot gun-shooting lessons. Only now, they are all alert again. They did not really know their enemy well.

Q: Do you think the KIA should sign another ceasefire agreement with the government at this point? What about calls for independence?
Meaningful discussions must come with the ceasefire, which will result in self-autonomy which has long been our demand. There are some talks about this call for independence within the leadership of the KIO. We have long wanted to walk towards that direction. Even if all of us are killed by the government army in consequence of that, we'd hope that the last Kachin who remains alive continues to be a Kachin, not a Burmese. But one thing that restrains us from moving in this direction is that our elders decided to stay with the Burmese—this agreement we should not break, I think.
By:WPGR blog


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