Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Taste of Peace in Kachin Land

(This article was written by late Tin Than Oo (a) Lt. Col. Mg Mg Oo in 2003.)

It was a scene I would never forget.

It was about 25 years ago. A cloud of thick black smoke was rising in waves after waves above a place the beauty of which was breathtaking. The temperature was bone-chilling as it was in winter. Even though we tried to keep ourselves warm by the fire, our backs were usually covered with a thin layer of ice. The mist had disappeared only at about 10 in the morning; and only at that moment, the enchanting beauty of the place came into view.

The Mount Emoboum rose high up into the sky, clear and blue like the colour of a massive stone of sapphire, with its crest capped with snow and mist in a cone shape. Flanked by Cheinyin range with snow-covered peaks in the north and the high Mayok range in the south, the view of the Emoboum looked so marvellous.

Unfortunately, the magnificent beauty of nature which looked like the masterpiece of an artist, was tarnished by those who were not able to solve the political conflicts resulting from the ideological differences. The beauty of nature was tarnished by those elements.

Not everyone would have felt the bitterness of the battles I had experienced since the mid-1970s. And it would not be easy for a person who had not witnessed the sufferings of the ethnic races to have full consideration for them. Even if he has a sympathetic mind, profoundness of the consideration would not be the same.

At that time, we did not dream of a bridge like Bala Min Htin Bridge linking Myitkyina and Waingmaw to emerge. The boats ferrying passengers and cargo between Waingmaw jetty and Khatcho jetty were in no position to ply according to the timetable. Every day, Myitkyina became silent and idle when the time passed six in the evening. Electricity supply was not regular even between six and nine in the evening. It was difficult for the passenger aircraft to run weekly flights to the area. The train from Mandalay arrived in Myitkyina only after travelling for about three days.

After completion of my officer's course at the Defence Services Academy, I was assigned to Myitkyina. Our group while leaving Mandalay for Myitkyina by train came face to face with the evil consequences of the internal strife even on our journey. The Mayan Railway Station on our way to Myitkyina was on fire. We then faced endless battles, the pitiful state of the local populace and the distasteful experiences, with no future prospects in sight.

We had to wait for about 12 days to make a trunk call from Myitkyina. But it was not sure whether we could manage it or not. And even if we could manage, we would have to shout for the person at the other end of the line to hear. Telegraphic message usually took one month to reach the destination. For mails, it was three months, and most of the letters were lost. I witnessed the Minena village on the river bank in Waingmaw Township, at the entrance to the Bala Min Htin Bridge, reduced to ashes in a fire. One will be able to appreciate the beauty of the present views better, only if one had seen them in the past also.

The Khakaborazi, the highest peak in Myanmar, and many other snow-covered mountains rising over 10,000 feet above the sea level lie in Kachin State. Of all the waterfalls I have heard or seen, the magnificent Chaung-mo-chwe Falls located between the two small towns, Chipwe and Hsawlaw, is the highest. From afar, it looks like a white snake of enormous size, diving straight into the Maykha River from a high mountain with a steep slope.

But the battles were to blame for destroying the natural beauties. Besides, all that had led to inflicting wounds and causing scars on the surface of the land were the ideological differences, suspicions, dissension and the evil colonial legacy. The Mayok range running in the south of the Emoboum was covered with thick pine forests. Once the battles in the area ignited a raging fire that burnt down the forest up to about 16 miles stretch of the area.

This particular scene was stuck to my mind forever. Yes, it was no other thing than that view. The mass of black smoke coming out wave after wave from the burning pine forest almost covered the whole of the snow-capped Emoboum. At night, the raging fire made it very ugly.

The battles seemed endless then. And the armed conflicts were not waged between only two sides. Sometimes, the fire fights were among the three different parties. Countless number of people died in the battles. The dead and wounded in Htawgaw battle on both sides in 1978 was countable by the thousand. Hundreds of local people were also killed in the crossfire in the battle.

Let alone the waging of the battles, even the daily life for everybody was hard. A Tatmadawman, a villager or a BCP insurgents, everyone faced very difficult situation. Large stretches of forests were razed by the fires. Let alone man, even the domestic animals killed by the land mines were in a great number. One would believe the incidents only if he had witnessed the situation then.

I had seen many people died in front of me. The battles that took place in the area had caused many soldiers and civilians amputated or blind. Once, I was without meals for 17 days. During the battles I was hit 11 times at the uniform or the belt or the hamlet or the gun. But luckily, only the single bullet had scratched my skin. When I broke my leg, it got cured through traditional means.

In the past, it was no easy matter to travel to the confluence that was only 28 miles from Myitkyina. I had a camera. So, I tried a number of times to get there to take pictures, but in vain, because the situation then at the place was dangerous.

At last, the camera was lost in the water together with my knapsack while I was crossing the Ngawchankha, a tributary of the Maykha. I had to live with a single uniform for about three months and without shoes for about six months.

At that time, the news reports about the battles were not released even once a year. So, there were many unknown heroes who sacrificed their lives. Supreme sacrifices for the national cause. What we desired then was peace, and nothing, but peace.

When efforts failed to bring peace to the region there were many who shed tear. The brethren sadly waved to each other saying, "Good-bye! Let’s meet again."

Earnest efforts were made to achieve peace.

Uncountable drops of blood were sacrificed to set up a new life, and the sweat that was sacrificed by the Tatmadawmen and the people could form another watercourse that might rival the Maykha.

"How joyful will it be if peace is achieved?" and "How can we achieve peace?” I often thought about it.

I tried to find the answer to the questions for many times. The persons who desired peace most were the armed personnel of both sides and the victims of the civil strife, who were the local people. But as for the onlookers, they could continue to smile as long as they had not suffered. 

We were very happy when peace was achieved.

I was thinking of shooting a film at the confluence, Waingmaw, Washaung and even in Panwa. Myitkyina was totally different from the past, and so significant that it was like the difference between the two opposite colours, black and white.

Only the ones who have been choked with exhaustion know well the taste of a drop of water.

The ones who have never perspired will not know the value of a cup of water.

Only the persons who have experienced the war will know the taste of peace.

We value peace. We love the taste of peace. We cannot let peace to be destroyed or interfered. We cannot let the recurrence of the sufferings of the victims, who are the local people. And we cannot let peace, which has been secured with great difficulty, lose again.

The ones who are enjoying the taste of peace only at present will not be able to fully enjoy it like the persons who faced the bitter experiences in the past.