The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) will launch new offensives against the Myanmar military on April 10 in an isolated valley area of the Tanaing township gold and amber mining region in Kachin state, the ethnic armed group said on Thursday.
The latest round of fighting between the two sides began early this year when government soldiers launched air strikes in Tanaing, an area controlled by the KIA, which relies on its natural resources as a source of income by levying a tax on mine operators.
The KIA believes that Myanmar forces have been stepping up their attacks on rebel-held territory in hopes of gaining control of it before the next round of negotiations in the government's peace conference initiative in May.
The KIA warned those who are working illegally in gold and amber mines in isolated Hukawng valley in northernmost Myanmar’s Kachin state to leave the area before the attacks begin, according to a statement issued by the group.
“The KIA doesn’t want civilians to get hurt on account of the fighting,” said Colonel Naw Bu, spokesman for the KIA and its political wing the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). “That’s why we issued an announcement telling them to leave the area where fighting between the KIA and government army could occur.”
The Myanmar army has not yet responded to the KIA’s announcement about the upcoming offensive.
State media reported previously that the ethnic militia had been conducted assaults on the regional military headquarters in Kachin since late January.
The Myanmar military has accused the Kachin rebel group of illegally using the area’s natural resources and taking money from mining businesses that should otherwise go to the state.
In February, it asked the KIA to move the headquarters of its Battalion 14 and other outposts from the Tanaing region, where it believed the KIO was conducting illegal business.
But Naw Bu said the KIA is not running illicit operations in the region.
“The KIA has gold and amber mine companies that are operating with the government’s permission,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “In recent years, government army troops have taken up all the gold and amber mines and asked people to work there. There are always government army columns in the KIA’s Battalion 14 area.”
The recent hostilities have forced thousands of miners and their families to flee the area or have trapped them inside war zones in the Tanaing region and in Sumprabung township where they have faced food and water shortages because blocked roadways have prevented them from leaving the area to get supplies.
Rights groups have called on the Myanmar military to allow unfettered humanitarian access to civilians in need in Kachin state.
‘Civil war will never end’
Bordered by China and India, Kachin state has been rocked by a resurgence of conflict since 2011 when a 17-year bilateral cease-fire agreement between the two sides broke down.
The clashes have left hundreds dead and more than 100,000 displaced. They also have stymied the government’s efforts to bring warring ethnic militias to the negotiating table.
Despite the hostilities, representatives from the Myanmar military held informal talks with KIA leaders on Feb. 1 in southwestern China’s Yunnan province, but continued attacks have scuttled efforts to end the hostilities.
“To end the civil war, we have to engage in political dialogue,” Naw Bu said. “By trying to solve the political problems with weapons and fighting, the civil war will never end, and we will never have peace.”
The KIA is one of several militias with which the Myanmar government is trying to end decades of ethnic separatist civil wars and forge peace in the country through a series of peace negotiations launched in August 2016 by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The KIO has not signed the government’s nationwide cease-fire agreement that eight of the country’s more than 20 ethnic armies inked in October 2015, with two more have joined since then.
Reported by Aung Theinkha for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.