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Under Siege in Kachin State

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In the northernmost state of Myanmar (also known as Burma), the country's army has been engaged in a brutal conflict with the Kachin, a predominantly Christian ethnic minority group of roughly one million people. A 17-year-old truce between the Myanmar and Kachin armies fell apart in 2011, and since then, government forces have been accused of subjecting the Kachin community to unlawful killings, forced labor, rape, and torture.       In 1947, the Kachin signed the Panglong Agreement to join the Union of Burma and seek independence from Great Britain. That agreement in principle established the autonomy of the Kachin and other signatory ethnic groups. But the Panglong agreement was never implemented. With discrimination and inequality on the rise, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) was formed in 1961 with the aim of winning independence from Burma. By the 1990s, KIO and other armed ethnic organizations had shifted their demands from full independence to the establishment of a federal union in Burma. Today the KIO is fighting to preserve Kachin culture, and for greater control of Kachin State's abundant natural resources and territory within Myanmar's federal state system.      The ongoing conflict has caused numerous casualties -- barriers to media access make exact numbers difficult to obtain -- and displaced more than 100,000 civilians. Despite Myanmar President Thein Sein's directive to stop the military offensive against the Kachin, the army has continued to launch attacks. While the premier has reached ceasefire agreements with other ethnic minorities in recent years, his negotiation team's talks with the KIO have failed to yield a truce.       Myanmar's Kachin people remain under siege, but the government's cease-fire negotiations with the KIO and other armed ethnic organizations are set to resume this month. After decades of authoritarianism and intermittent war, successful negotiations could open a path to the autonomy that the Kachin community has sought for so long. But in the meantime, the conflict continues to take a toll on the daily life of the Kachin -- from weddings and festivals to trade and travel.       Above, Kachin fighters ride in a pickup truck to the mountain outpost of Jan   Mai Kawng. The KIA wrested control of the territory from Myanmar's    armed forces.       An extended gallery of these photos can be found at Creative Time Reports.         Diana Markosian

In the northernmost state of Myanmar (also known as Burma), the country's army has been engaged in a brutal conflict with the Kachin, a predominantly Christian ethnic minority group of roughly one million people. A 17-year-old truce between the Myanmar and Kachin armies fell apart in 2011, and since then, government forces have been accused of subjecting the Kachin community to unlawful killings, forced labor, rape, and torture.

In 1947, the Kachin signed the Panglong Agreement to join the Union of Burma and seek independence from Great Britain. That agreement in principle established the autonomy of the Kachin and other signatory ethnic groups. But the Panglong agreement was never implemented. With discrimination and inequality on the rise, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) was formed in 1961 with the aim of winning independence from Burma. By the 1990s, KIO and other armed ethnic organizations had shifted their demands from full independence to the establishment of a federal union in Burma. Today the KIO is fighting to preserve Kachin culture, and for greater control of Kachin State's abundant natural resources and territory within Myanmar's federal state system.

The ongoing conflict has caused numerous casualties -- barriers to media access make exact numbers difficult to obtain -- and displaced more than 100,000 civilians. Despite Myanmar President Thein Sein's directive to stop the military offensive against the Kachin, the army has continued to launch attacks. While the premier has reached ceasefire agreements with other ethnic minorities in recent years, his negotiation team's talks with the KIO have failed to yield a truce.

Myanmar's Kachin people remain under siege, but the government's cease-fire negotiations with the KIO and other armed ethnic organizations are set to resume this month. After decades of authoritarianism and intermittent war, successful negotiations could open a path to the autonomy that the Kachin community has sought for so long. But in the meantime, the conflict continues to take a toll on the daily life of the Kachin -- from weddings and festivals to trade and travel.

Above, Kachin fighters ride in a pickup truck to the mountain outpost of Jan Mai Kawng. The KIA wrested control of the territory from Myanmar's armed forces.

An extended gallery of these photos can be found at Creative Time Reports.  

Diana Markosian

Bride Nhkum Yawng Back Awng, 23, on her wedding day. Her family could not   afford to attend the wedding, so her best friend accompanied her. The   siege of Kachin state has turned life upside down for many Kachins as   some either opt out of marriage or postpone wedding ceremonies due to costs.      Diana Markosian

Bride Nhkum Yawng Back Awng, 23, on her wedding day. Her family could not afford to attend the wedding, so her best friend accompanied her. The siege of Kachin state has turned life upside down for many Kachins as some either opt out of marriage or postpone wedding ceremonies due to costs.

Diana Markosian

N'Brang Mun Naw, 32, discovers the body of his younger brother on the front lines. Mun Naw's brother was killed and buried by Myanmar's    soldiers on Apr. 16, following clashes between the two armies.      Diana Markosian

N'Brang Mun Naw, 32, discovers the body of his younger brother on the front lines. Mun Naw's brother was killed and buried by Myanmar's soldiers on Apr. 16, following clashes between the two armies.

Diana Markosian

Worshippers attend morning mass at St. Francis Church in the Kachin capital of Myitkyina.      Diana Markosian

Worshippers attend morning mass at St. Francis Church in the Kachin capital of Myitkyina.

Diana Markosian

Women gather for a small New Year's celebration in Kachin state.      Diana Markosian

Women gather for a small New Year's celebration in Kachin state.

Diana Markosian

Young military recruits with very little training -- like the ones pictured above -- are expected to compete   with the well-equipped and experienced Myanmar's    army. KIA soldiers still   use the strategies of warfare that they learned from the British,   alongside whom they fought against the Japanese during World War II.      Diana Markosian

Young military recruits with very little training -- like the ones pictured above -- are expected to compete with the well-equipped and experienced Myanmar's army. KIA soldiers still use the strategies of warfare that they learned from the British, alongside whom they fought against the Japanese during World War II.

Diana Markosian

Kachin passengers on board a train in Kawlin, a town in the Sagaing   region. Many parts of Kachin state, just to the east, seem a world apart  from the rest of Myanmar. The area's frosty peaks and muggy valleys   make it a difficult region to navigate for Myanmar's    army.      Diana Markosian

Kachin passengers on board a train in Kawlin, a town in the Sagaing region. Many parts of Kachin state, just to the east, seem a world apart from the rest of Myanmar. The area's frosty peaks and muggy valleys make it a difficult region to navigate for Myanmar's army.

Diana Markosian

A small New Year's celebration in Kachin state. Before the start of the war in 2011, a large festival was held each year in Myitkyina to celebrate the new year. The annual festival has been put on pause for as long as outbreaks of fierce fighting continue.      Diana Markosian

A small New Year's celebration in Kachin state. Before the start of the war in 2011, a large festival was held each year in Myitkyina to celebrate the new year. The annual festival has been put on pause for as long as outbreaks of fierce fighting continue.

Diana Markosian

Worshippers at a New Year's celebration in the Kachin capital,   Myitkyina. In predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, the Kachin are for the   most part devout Christians. The hill tribe was converted to   Christianity by American missionaries at the end of the 19th and the   beginning of the 20th century.      Diana Markosian

Worshippers at a New Year's celebration in the Kachin capital, Myitkyina. In predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, the Kachin are for the most part devout Christians. The hill tribe was converted to Christianity by American missionaries at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.

Diana Markosian

U Thet Oo Son, 33, a jade miner, lives with his family in a camp for internally displaced people. Miners' meager earnings are typically swallowed not only by middlemen, but also by the potent, dirt-cheap heroin that is traded in local bazaars. U Thet Oo Son says he used to be paid in heroin instead of money.      Diana Markosian

U Thet Oo Son, 33, a jade miner, lives with his family in a camp for internally displaced people. Miners' meager earnings are typically swallowed not only by middlemen, but also by the potent, dirt-cheap heroin that is traded in local bazaars. U Thet Oo Son says he used to be paid in heroin instead of money.

Diana Markosian

The Irrawaddy River, which flows through Kachin state, draws on glacial   waters from the eastern extremities of the Himalayas, carrying nutrients  into Myanmar's arid central region. The Myitsone dam project, which is   being built and financed by a Chinese company, would be the first dam   across the Irrawaddy River. Protests against the dam, based on concerns   about damage to wildlife and displacement of villages, forced a   suspension of construction in September 2011.      Diana Markosian

The Irrawaddy River, which flows through Kachin state, draws on glacial waters from the eastern extremities of the Himalayas, carrying nutrients into Myanmar's arid central region. The Myitsone dam project, which is being built and financed by a Chinese company, would be the first dam across the Irrawaddy River. Protests against the dam, based on concerns about damage to wildlife and displacement of villages, forced a suspension of construction in September 2011.

Diana Markosian

China is the dominant trading partner in Kachin state. Day and night,   trains and trucks exporting teak line up to cross a bridge to China.   "Eighty percent of the trade happens illegally," a Chinese trader in   agricultural exports told me.      Diana Markosian

China is the dominant trading partner in Kachin state. Day and night, trains and trucks exporting teak line up to cross a bridge to China. "Eighty percent of the trade happens illegally," a Chinese trader in agricultural exports told me.

Diana Markosian

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