New Clashes in Myanmar’s Kachin State Force Hundreds to Flee Mining Areas

The national army drops fliers from a helicopter warning those living in the region to evacuate the area before a clearing operation on June 15.

An ethnic Kachin refugee family eats near Lung Byeng village, Waimaw township, in northern Myanmar's Kachin state, Jan. 21, 2017.

Four hundred people fled from gold and amber mines in a resource-rich area of northern Myanmar’s Kachin state following a warning by the army that soldiers were preparing to clear the area following a new round of fighting with an ethnic militia, local residents said Wednesday.

A mine worker named Worlay who left the mining region said he is one of a group of 78 people staying at a church in Tanaing town.

“We are from Namkhan village and we work as miners, but most people work on their farms,” he said. “We have fled because the military dropped letters [from a helicopter] saying it will clear the mine areas where our village is.”

“We don’t know how long we have to stay here,” he said. “We want to return home because we left behind our farms and animals.”

The warning letters dropped by the army on Monday also said the mines in Tanaing township in the Myitkyina district of Kachin have destroyed the environment, sources said.

The letters said the Kachin Independence Army (KIA)—an ethnic armed group that is involved in clashes with the Myanmar army—has been taking money from mining businesses that should otherwise go to the state.

The fliers warned that if residents failed to leave the area by June 15, the military would consider them to have connections to the KIA, sources said.

Most of those who fled the area are staying in Buddhist monasteries and Christian churches, they said.

Caught up in hostilities

Dwe Bu, a Kachin lawyer and former parliamentarian who is helping internally displaced persons who have fled battles in the area, said the roughly 400 people from N’Ga Ga and Nam Byu villages arrived in Tanaing town during the night, fleeing new bouts of fighting between the government army and KIA.

Authorities tried to prevent residents from fleeing their homes after hostilities broke out on June 3, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported, citing civil society groups as the source.

KIA spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Naw Bu told the news outlet that the Myanmar army attacked KIA Battalion 14’s Maisa outpost near Nam Byu village for three days.

Separate clashes near N’Ga Ga continued until Tuesday, but no casualties were reported, he said.

A women and her two daughters, however, were injured when four artillery shells fell on their home in Kawng Ra Village, The Irrawaddy reported, citing local residents.

Most of the people trying to flee the villages are women and children, and they have asked social and religious organizations to help them escape, Dwe Bu said.

When the organizations informed the township administrator, authorities sent trucks to evacuate them, she said.

Authorities and leaders from the Kachin Baptist Convention are discussing whether they should enter the area and evacuate others, Dwe Bu said.

About 500 displaced people from the mining areas are still waiting to cross the river and enter Tanaing town to escape the fighting, she said.

Some of them are ethnic Burman and Shan migrant workers who work in the amber and gold mines, though most have already returned to their homes, she said.

The KIA and Myanmar army had a bilateral cease-fire in place for 17 years, but it collapsed in 2011.

Reported by Kyaw Myo Min and Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.