Myanmar cancels voting in swathes of war-torn borderlands

Flyers for the National Democratic Force (NDF) party hang from a string, left by party members campaigning for the general election on Nov 8, 2015.
Flyers for the National Democratic Force (NDF) party hang from a string, left by party members campaigning for the general election on Nov 8, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar on Tuesday (Oct 13) cancelled voting across parts of its conflict-scarred north, as hopes receded for a nationwide ceasefire before historic polls in November.

Election officials said they were "not capable" of holding the vote in areas of northern Shan and Kachin states bordering China because of ongoing fighting.

The move had been anticipated and mainly affects areas battered by war or beyond the government's writ, in a country where several ethnic minority armies still resist control by the state.

"Some village areas have security restrictions and we have security concerns about those. Others are in the control of Kachin (rebels) where we are not capable of holding elections," Tun Aung Khaing, a senior election official in Kachin State, told AFP.

Myanmar's Union Election Commission said elections cannot be held in over 400 village areas in total, largely in Kachin and Shan in the north and Karen state in the east. Officials did not say why polls in Karen were cancelled.

In addition, five townships will not hold polls on November 8 in the semi-autonomous areas of the ethnic Wa group, who had already vowed not to allow the elections on their territory in Shan state.

In Kachin, the decision affects nearly twice as large an area as a similar cancellation ahead of 2010 polls, where elections were called off due to pockets of unrest.

A ceasefire between the army and Kachin rebels collapsed in 2011 under a new quasi-civilian government.

The move comes as Myanmar prepares to sign a limited ceasefire on Oct 15 as it tries to end decades of fighting before elections.

Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition is expected to make major gains in Myanmar's general election, the first in a quarter of a century that her party is participating in.

She is not expected to attend the ceasefire signing, which is between the government and eight armed groups. The deal is being shunned by several major insurgent groups, including some based in Kachin and Shan states.

The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has said it will not sign without the inclusion of all insurgent forces - notably some smaller organisations locked in conflict with the army.

Clashes between the government and KIA have intensified in recent weeks, while fighting continues in northern Shan state.

The government on Tuesday rewarded those signing Thursday's ceasefire by removing them from its list of banned organisations.

Those signing include the Karen National Union (KNU), whose armed wing has battled the government in the eastern jungle near the Thai border from 1949.