Fighting between Myanmar’s military and ethnic rebels in Kachin rages 13 days

Junta attacks key village controlled by Kachin Independence Army
By RFA Burmese
Fighting between Myanmar’s military and ethnic rebels in Kachin rages 13 days Kachin Independence Army soldiers are seen at a camp near KIA headquarters in Laiza, Kachin state, Myanmar, May 2, 2023.

Fierce fighting between Myanmar’s military junta and an ethnic rebel group in the country’s northern Kachin state has raged for 13 days in a village close to the rebels’ headquarters, people living near the area told Radio Free Asia.

The headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army, or KIA, is in Lai Zar, and the military attacked Nam Sang Yang village, roughly 9.6 kilometers (six miles) away, on July 2. 

The ethnic army has been aiding anti-junta local militias and publicly supporting the shadow National Unity Government – made up of former civilian leaders and other junta opponents – since the Feb. 1, 2021 coup that overthrew the democratically elected government.

The fighting is the latest spasm of violence in Myanmar’s civil war, which pits the country’s military against an array of ethnic armies and civilians-turned-fighters that call themselves the People’s Defense Force.

Sources told RFA that the fighting has been a daily occurrence, as junta forces attempt to take Nam Sang Yang, while the KIA defends it. They are waiting for forces from another armed ethnic group, the Arakan Army, or AA, to enter the fray.

Nam Sang Yang lies at about the halfway point between the cities of Myitkyina and Bhamo, and taking it is the key for the junta to regain control of the road that connects them, Col. Nawbu, a KIA soldier in charge of news and information, told Radio Free Asia’s Burmese Service.

“The fighting started in early July, and the junta troops got reinforcements from Bhamo and Mytkyina,” he said. “I think they are about a hundred strong, but that’s not an exact number. We cannot say for sure what strategies the enemy is using.”

Nawbu said that he thought the junta’s aim was to retake the section of the road, but had no idea if they also had plans to try to also take Lai Zar the KIA headquarters.

“Anything is possible,” he said. “That’s the nature of war. That’s why we are on high alert.”

10 battles

At least 10 separate battles have been fought over the past 13 days, with junta troops employing heavy artillery on a daily basis, Nawbu said. Casualties have occurred on both sides, but he was not able to confirm exact details.  

Nawbu expects the fighting to intensify and continue for several more days as the military reinforces its troops.

Fighting along the road will be fierce, as members of both the AA and KIA are stationed there to defend against the junta, residents said.

Residents of Nang Sang Yang village, Waingmaw township, Kachin state, try to flee the fighting between Myanmar junta forces and Kachin Independence Army, July 6, 2023. Credit: RFA  

Since July 3, the road has been closed by soldiers on either side, and resources are running low in Lai Zar, where the KIA makes its headquarters, a resident of the town, who refused to be named, told RFA.

“Many goods are out of stock here… there will be no food and essentials left in my store by the end of this month,” she said. “I have to try to make sure I have something to sell.”

Prices in Lai Zar are rising as items are harder to come by, the resident said. 

Due to the fighting, people traveling to and from Myitkyina and Lai Zar have been trapped, and more than a thousand Nam Sang Yang residents have fled to Myitkyina, Waingmo and Lai Zar since the fighting began. 


Residents said the junta launched air strikes on nearby Ma Dee Yang village on the night of July 7, and they also fired heavy artillery in areas around Lai Zar.

“I think the fighting will get more intense according to what I recently heard,”  a resident of Lai Zar said on condition of anonymity for safety reasons. “They are still fighting now.”

The Lai Zar resident said that he could hear gunshots and heavy artillery shelling targeting the areas surrounding the town.

“These are sounds that are terrifying elderly people, children and pregnant mothers,” he said. 

We often hear the sound of heavy artillery shelling areas near Lai Zar. We hear gunshots off and on. The sounds of those shelling are terrifying for elderly people, children and pregnant mothers.”

Win Ye Tun, social affairs minister and the junta’s spokesman for Kachin state, told RFA that he did not know the situation of the fighting.

"I don't know about the battle. As I said before, we are helping people who have fled from there … providing them with rice, oil, money and we also visit them to check on them,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Hla Kyaw Zaw, an expert on Myanmar affairs, said that the junta is focusing on KIA-controlled areas because they suspect that the KIA is helping militia groups called People's Defense Forces, or PDFs, formed by citizens opposed to military rule.

“Since the junta troops took a beating in Sagaing and other fronts, they might think that KIA is strongly backing the PDF in those regions,” he said. “But I think [the junta] won’t be able to besiege Lai Zar.”

Having the areas near its border controlled by ethnic groups could be strategically beneficial to China, he said.

"China is trying to influence both sides to solve the problems by peaceful means as much as it can. It is the way I see it. Especially the ethnic areas next to its  border, China won't let them down." 

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Eugene Whong and Malcolm Foster.


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