MYITKYINA — As chief minister of Kachin State, La John Ngan Hsai is the highest state government official in Burma’s far north, a region rich in natural resources and long plagued by fighting between the central government’s military and ethnic armed groups. Given his high rank on the state level, he is also a member of the central government’s peacemaking team, led by Minister Aung Min, which met for three days earlier this month with rebels from the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). In this interview, he talks about the peace process, deforestation and the rampant problem of drug use in his state.
Question: Fighting has been ongoing for two years between government troops and Kachin rebels from the Kachin Independence Organization. What is your role, and can you comment on the conflict?
Answer: We ethnic nationalities are like brothers and sisters. We are like families. We need peace in order to build a good and developing nation in the future. We can develop our states only when we get peace. We must attempt to achieve peace. Since fighting broke out on June 9, 2011, we, the Kachin State government, have also kept in mind that we have a responsibility for the safety and development of the people who live in our state. That’s why, when clashes first broke out, we thought we should not allow it to continue. On July 27, we formed a five-member committee to serve the state’s peace and stability. In August, a delegation led by Gen Gun Maw from the KIA [the Kachin Independence Army, an armed wing of the KIO] met with a government delegation led by Col Than Aung in Lajayang [a strategic area near Laiza, where the KIA has its headquarters]. It was a good meeting. But it didn’t work [to end the conflict], for some reasons, even though we made an effort.
Q: Kachin State is rich in natural resources, including jade and forests. I have heard that precious trees, such as teak, are almost gone now. Is deforestation happening on a major scale, given the big interests in logging and jade mining here?
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