Over at New Mandala, there have been a series of excellent posts on the continuing conflict between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Myanmar military. Several have suggested that, as the Kachin area is increasingly covered in the state press in Yangon, it suggests that the government may no longer be trying to downplay the conflict, and may instead be trying to wins hearts and minds both in the Kachin area and among the majority Burman population for its handling of the fighting, in order to isolate Kachin regions from the broader reform effort and possibly split them from sympathy in the National League for Democracy (NLD). Of course, a recent report by Human Rights Watch suggests that serious abuses by the government forces continue in the Kachin area, and it still seems unclear whether Thein Sein’s government even has total control of military policy in the Kachin area, or whether regional commanders are making policy on the ground. This lack of control would be a highly disturbing trend but not surprising, given the fact that Thein Sein is not respected by all field commanders and that field commanders have a long history of being able to run regional commands with sizable autonomy.
No matter what the truth of the government side’s command structure, the conflict has now risen as the biggest obstacle to reform, permanent peace, and the creation of some new federal structure, a Panglong II. In addition, as New Mandala rightly notes, the claimed high casualty figures in the Kachin conflict —KIA sources claims 3,000 Burmese soldiers have been killed in recent fighting—means that, even if the war is ended, it is becoming harder and harder for an effective post-war settlement to be crafted, since both sides are losing so many people that acrimony could keep any real peace from emerging.