More than 5,000 people in a township in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state have fled their homes amid concerns over possible renewed fighting between local armed rebels and government forces following a key rebel group’s controversial recruitment drive, sources said Monday.
They fled after unconfirmed reports said that government troops would launch an offensive against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) after accusing the rebel group of forcing locals to join its ranks under the pretext of drug-control efforts.
Many who fled Tanaing township in Kachin’s capital Myitkyina were mine workers.
Tensions between the KIA and government forces in Tanaing had risen after government forces sent a warning letter to the rebels to stop arresting locals on drug charges and to release by Oct. 3 those already in their custody, a local source said.
“KIA ‘arrested’ people who used drugs but the government army saw it as recruitment,” a local source told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“We heard that the government army has sent a letter to KIA warning that it would clear all KIA troops [from the area] if KIA didn’t release [those held in their custody] in three days.”
The KIO, the military wing of the Kachin Indpendence Organization (KIO), still has administrative control over several key areas in Kachin State and is among only a few main rebel groups that has not entered into a cease-fire agreement with the government.
Lamai Gum Ja, a leader of the Myitkyina-based Kachin Peace Creation Group, which acts as a go-between for the KIA and the Kachin state government, told RFA that his group had received an unsigned warning letter dated Oct. 3 linked to the tensions.
Both the military and the rebels had denied they were behind the letter.
Clashes between the KIA and government army have flared on and off since the termination of a 17-year cease-fire in June 2011.
Since then, fighting in Kachin state has forced thousands of civilians to flee their homes.
In late August, the KIA and army troops clashed in a five-hour fight in Mayan, a railway station village between Myitkyina and Namti in Kachin state, according to a report by Kachin News Group.
Houses in a military base were partially damaged and a woman suffered a leg injury after being hit by gunfire, it said.
The tensions in Tanaing followed a number of recent skirmishes between armed ethnic rebels and government troops in Shan state in eastern Myanmar and Kayin and Mon states in the southeastern part of the country, amid negotiations to a nationwide ceasefire agreement.
In Shan state, five government soldiers and two Shan ethnic rebels had died, rebel groups said Friday.
About 50 government troops and three Shan insurgents were also wounded during the clashes in Kyethi township since Thursday in central Shan state, they said.
In Mon state near the border with Thailand, five ethnic Karen armed rebels were killed in fighting last week with government troops, raising tensions that have forced civilians to flee villages and schools to close, police said.
Talks last month between the government’s Union Peacemaking Work Committee and the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, representing more than a dozen armed ethnic rebel groups, were stymied by disagreements over military and other issues.
The two sides, however, agreed to a fourth draft of a nationwide cease-fire agreement, whose points would require internal discussion before they meet again this month.
Reported by Kyaw Myo Min for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.