Members of Myanmar Social Development Network in Kachin State’s Bhamo last week. Photo: Supplied
More details – some of which conflict with state media reports – have emerged about a civil society group that was forced by the military to turn back on its approach to Laiza.
Ko Nay Myo Zin, leader of Myanmar Social Development Network, was stopped by military officers on January 24 about 25 kilometres from Laiza, the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO).
The English edition of the state-run New Light of Myanmar reported the following day that authorities turned back a civilian vehicle bound for Laiza at Dotphoneyan to avoid “unnecessary losses”, without providing further details. However, the paper’s Myanmar edition said the group continued despite the warning and head to La Ja Yan.
About 8km further down the road, they turned back after authorities explained “well” about the risks, the paper reported.
But Ko Nay Myo Zin told The Myanmar Times from Bhamo in southern Kachin State on January 25 that he and four members of the group were “harshly” stopped by the deputy commander of Battalion 320.
“First, their behaviour was harsh – shouting ‘Turn off your camera’,” Ko Nay Myo Zin said. “I asked them whether they would shoot if we continue. Then they apologised and said that they were just following orders and we will put them in a difficult situation if we continue. So we turned back,” he said.
The commander said the group should turn back because Kachin Independence Army (KIA) soldiers would shoot him and his team if they continued, or they would encounter a landmine. They also said he should not proceed as the group was not part of an official delegation. However, Ko Nay Myo Zin said he believed the Kachin would “welcome”, rather than shoot at, the group if it approached Laiza.
The group set out from Yanogn on January 21 in a truck carrying 25 bags of warm clothes for displaced people. The vehicle carried the group’s logo, along with a blue poster with a picture of an AK-47 and the words, “Let flowers blossom instead of bullets.”
When asked about the incident, presidential spokesman U Ye Htut said the KIA planted landmines on the road and the soldiers were trying to prevent further loss of life.
“If he is welcomed by the KIA, it’s better to take the road from Shweli. If he is injured by a landmine, only the Tatmadaw will be blamed,” U Ye Htut said in an email.
Ko Ming Seng, a coordinator at Kachin Peace Network who went to Laiza with Ko Nay Myo Zin in June 2012, said that the team could have planned the trip better.
He also said that civil society groups’ focus on Laiza could create the perception that the KIO does not want peace.
“What they are trying to do is to make people more aware of the fighting and need for peace. But going to Laiza is not the only answer,” Ko Ming Seng said.
Ko Nay Myo Zin’s wife, Ma Zin Myo Maw, said she did not try to stop her husband despite the dangers of the trip. “I wasn’t worried. I’m a Buddhist and believe in karma. If you do good things, good things will come to you. I just prayed for his safety,” she said.
Ko Nay Myo Zin established Myanmar Social Development Network immediately after being released from Insein Prison in January 2012 under a presidential amnesty. A former lieutenant in the Tatmadaw, where he served from 1994 to 2005, Ko Nay Myo Zin was arrested in 2010 under the Unlawful Association Act for his involvement with the National League for Democracy.