At least 30,000 people from different faiths and ethnic groups were estimated to have taken part in a demonstration in Myanmar's northern Kachin State on Oct. 22 where they demanded an end to military operations in the region. Protestors, including Catholic priests and nuns, held placards that read, "stop civil war" and "may there be peace in Myanmar" on the streets in Myitkyina, the capital city of Kachin State. The fighting between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Myanmar military in Kachin and Shan states is considered the most severe of the country's four ongoing conflicts. Bishop Francis Daw Tang of Myitkyina said that armed Kachin groups must return to the negotiating table. "Our people need to be involved in the peace process, not only with our prayers but also taking part in demonstrations," said Bishop Daw Tang, who encouraged priests, nuns and laypeople to join the protest. He told ucanews.com that "people have repeatedly called for an end to civil war." Catholic nuns take part in a protest in Myitkyina, the capital city of Kachin State on Oct. 22. (Photo courtesy of Hkun Awng Nlam)
The protest was part of a growing movement in support of peace with similar demonstrations recently being held in numerous cities across Myanmar including Bago and Pathein and in locations in Chin and northern Shan states. Aung San Suu Kyi convened the 21st Century Panglong Conference in August bringing almost all ethnic armed groups, the military, government and political parties together to discuss an end to the fighting. However, the military stepped up its offensive soon after the conference with air strikes in Kachin State, an act that could derail the peace process in a country that has seen on and off again civil wars being waged for nearly 70 years. Manam Tu Ja, a Catholic and the chairman of the Kachin State Democracy Party, said that people have desired peace for a long time. "Fighting must be halted and we need to move forward with political dialogue otherwise the credibility of the 21st Century Panglong conference will be besmirched," said Tu Ja, who helped organize the Oct. 22 protest.
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The KIA took up arms against the military in 2011 after a 17-year-long ceasefire in the Christian-majority region. Since then, more than 120,000 people have displaced by fighting. In September more than 5,000 people in eastern Karen State were forced to take shelter from violence between the military-aligned Border Guard Force and a splinter group of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army. Conflict also continues in northern Shan State between the military and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army and the Shan State Army-North. Brussels-based think tank, International Crisis Group (ICG) has urged the government and armed groups to start a political dialogue as soon as possible. "Unless both sides grasp the current opportunity, the prospect of a negotiated solution will recede, likely to be replaced by a messy, drawn-out endgame that fails to address the underlying grievances of the minority communities, including their demands for a federal system and greater equality," ICG said in a report
on Oct. 19. Some of the estimated 30,000 antiwar protestors who marched through Myitkyina on Oct. 22. (Photo courtesy of Hkun Awng Nlam)