Fighting between Myanmar government forces and Kachin rebel troops displaced nearly 2,000 villagers in the country’s northern Kachin state on Thursday, as villagers fled mortar fire to take shelter in churches and monasteries in the town of Hpakant, sources said.
The clashes came as the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) released a government minister it had detained the day before, with government forces attacking in spite of Kachin assurances that the official would be freed, a KIA commander told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Thursday.
“We told them last night that we would release Kachin State Minister for Transport Kamann Du Naw at around 7:00 a.m. this morning,” KIA battalion commander Maj. Tan Sant said.
“But they didn’t wait for his release and attacked us at 6:30 this morning.”
It was unclear why the minister, who had been conducting a road inspection in the area, had been detained.
He has now been released, though three policemen who had accompanied him as bodyguards are still being held, Tan Sant said.
“We are waiting for orders from headquarters to tell us what to do with them.”
The government assault on outposts of KIA Brigade 66 lasted until approximately 1:00 p.m., he said.
“Then they started again, and the fighting has continued until now.”
“Around 2,000 people from three villages have run from the fighting and are now stranded in nearby monasteries and churches,” he said, adding that government troops were using heavy weapons and that mortar rounds had fallen in a field in front of a displaced persons camp.
No reports on numbers killed in the fighting or other casualties were immediately available.
Villagers cut off by the fighting have already been contacting local aid groups by phone, asking for help, a Hpakant-based relief worker told RFA.
“We are planning to help the victims—the Christian community and the other villages—but we have heard that the government will not allow us to pass through this area,” Tuu Yaw, a worker with the local aid group Peace and Reconciliation, said.
“Victims have telephoned me for help.”
“Though top leaders have been holding talks, troops on the ground are still fighting,” he said.
In November, Myanmar’s military acknowledged that it had opened fire on a rebel training camp in Kachin state that left 23 cadets dead, saying it was meant to be a “warning” strike.
But rebels maintained the attack was deliberate and posed a threat to peace talks.
Reported by Wai Mar Tun and Kyaw Myo Min. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Richard Finney.