Hostilities Between Myanmar Army And Kachin Militia Force Villagers to Flee

Six missing residents from Aytulay village are feared to have been taken away by soldiers.

Kachin Independence Army (KIA) soldiers take a cigarette break as they move towards the frontline of fighting with the government army near Laiza in northern Myanmar's Kachin state, Oct. 14, 2016.

A clash between an ethnic armed group and the Myanmar military in the Indawgyi region of northern Myanmar’s Kachin state on Thursday has forced an unspecified number of residents from Aytulay village to flee their homes, local sources said.

The fighting between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and government soldiers began on April 10 in the area where the Myanmar Army’s Infantry Unit 390 and Operations Control Headquarters No. 3 are located, they said.

Six residents who are “Red Shan” farmers are missing, said a villager from Aytulay who requested anonymity, referring to the Tai-Leng ethnic group from the southern part of the state.

“We heard one [of the six] escaped today,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “We don’t know whether they have been taken away by the government army or by the KIA. We haven’t received any news about them.”

“People are frightened and are being careful,” he said.

Members of the ethnic group, who speak a dialect of the Shan language and are nearly all Buddhist, say they have long suffered violence and discrimination by both the KIA and the Myanmar military through the confiscation of food and other supplies, the extortion of heavy taxes, and the forcing of residents to serve as porters.

Some Red Shan, who make a living by farming and trading commodities, have formed people’s militias to defend their communities.

The KIA has engaged in skirmishes with the Myanmar army since 2011, when a 17-year bilateral cease-fire agreement between the two sides broke down.

Another round of fighting between the two sides began early this year when government soldiers launched air strikes in the Tanaing gold and amber mining region, 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 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 Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the KIA’s political wing, 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 having joined since then.

More villagers flee to Lashio

Also on Thursday, more than 40 villagers fled to Lashio, the largest town in violence-wracked northern Shan state, a week after couple from Narsign village near the town of Namtu disappeared, sources in the region said Thursday.

The village is situated along the Namtu-Lashio Highway, the main thoroughfare between the two towns, where the Myanmar army and two ethnic armed groups — the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South (RCSS/SSA-S) and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) — frequently travel.

The couple — Aik San and his wife Aye Kho — got lost on April 3 while they were herding their buffaloes in a forest, villager Aik Kho said.

“We are [now] afraid to go to work on our farm,” he said. “That’s why we came to Lashio.”

Villagers searched for the two missing residents, who have three children, but did not go too far afield on account of the presence of armed groups based near the village and the risk of landmines.

The 40 residents who fled are staying in Lashio’s Palaung Literature and Culture Hall.

The TNLA has been fighting the Myanmar army and the RCSS in Shan state since late November 2015, about six weeks after the signing of the NCA.

The RCSS is one of the eight original signatories to the NCA, while the TNLA was excluded from signing the accord because of its ongoing hostilities with Myanmar’s armed forces.

In March, the TNLA engaged in hostilities against the Myanmar military along the border between Kyaukme and Namhsan townships and in Namtu township, but began to fight the RCSS when its troops entered TNLA-controlled territory and harassed, seized, interrogated the locals, took away some farm animals, and laid mines in the area’s outskirts, TNLA spokesman Major Mai Aik Kyaw told RFA at the time.

Those clashes also forced locals to flee their homes.

“We had about 170 internally displaced persons in March in Namtu, said Aung Gyi, an aid worker helping villagers who fled to Namtu town to escape the fighting.

“More than 100 people arrived on April 10 and 40 today, so we now have more than 300 [who] are staying at monasteries or in their relatives’ homes,” he said.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has estimated that the fighting in Kachin and Shan states has displaced more than 100,000 people.

Reported by Kyaw Myo Min, Kan Thar, and Zarni Htun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.