Fighting Flares in Kachin State


2014-04-18
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burma-kachin-kia-jan2013-75.jpg KIA soldiers stand guard as they secure an area on Hka Ya mountain in Kachin state on Jan. 20, 2013.
AFP

Clashes between government troops and Kachin rebels in northern Myanmar have escalated following a week-long offensive by the country’s military, displacing thousands of civilians and casting a shadow over nationwide cease-fire talks, rebel leaders said Friday.

The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has been forced to withdraw from some of its outposts after a series of attacks by Myanmar’s army in Mansi and Momauk townships in Kachin state’s Bhamo district since April 10, according to a KIA spokesman.

The clashes had spread to Momauk on Sunday after erupting in Mansi last week, he said, while local media reported more clashes nearby in the northern part of Kachin’s neighboring Shan State.

The leader of a group of 16 ethnic rebel groups engaged in talks on a nationwide cease-fire proposed by the government said the recent fighting had prompted “concern” among fellow rebels and made them “lose trust” in the talks.

A relief group said more than 8,000 civilians have been displaced by the recent fighting—part of clashes that have flared on and off since a 17-year cease-fire between the KIA and the Myanmar government was shattered in June 2011.  

KIA spokesman La Nan said Myanmar troops had staged a full week of offensives including artillery attacks on KIA positions in the two townships from April 10 to 17.  

He said the Myanmar army’s 99th brigade had carried out artillery attacks particularly on KIA’s 27th Battalion.

“Those at the state level have been discussing a nationwide cease-fire, but the situation in the field is far from that,” he said. 

Fatalities

Both sides have suffered fatalities in the fighting, according to local media reports, but the number of casualties has not been announced and the Myanmar military has not released any reports on the fighting.

President Thein Sein’s spokesman Ye Htut, however, has said several government troops including a senior commander were killed, according to reports.

A Myanmar military officer in the Kachin state capital Myitkyina told RFA’s Myanmar Service the fighting in Momauk was triggered by the KIA bombing of a truck on a key road.

“The KIA bombed a Myanmar army truck … on the Bhamo-Lweje highway on April 13. The fighting followed that,” the officer said.

KIA outnumbered


La Nan said that when the fighting broke out, the KIA had few troops in the area because of the nationwide cease-fire talks.

After the Myanmar military began its offensive, KIA forces were far outnumbered and forced to withdraw, he said.

The KIA had stationed some 30 soldiers to guard outposts in the area, when artillery attacks were launched by the military’s eight battalions with a total 1,000 troops, he said.

“We had deployed just a few troops at our outposts because our representatives have been attending peace talks,” he said.

Although pledges had been made by both sides in the nationwide cease-fire negotiations to reduce tensions, the Myanmar army had strengthened its forces in the area, he said.

“They cannot be believed,” he said.

“The Myanmar military has strengthened their forces. They have built underground tunnels 3 to 4 miles [5 to 6 kilometers] long that they use to connect their posts. Their military officers and soldiers have been threatening local people, telling them they’re going to clear out the KIA.”  

Thein Sein’s government is aiming to get all of the country’s rebel groups to sign on to the nationwide cease-fire pact in a bid to end decades of conflict and speed up reforms as the country emerges from decades under military rule.  

Representatives from the KIA—which is one of Myanmar’s largest rebel groups and one of two that has not yet signed a full individual cease-fire with the government—took part in high-level talks on the accord earlier this month in Yangon, where rebels and government negotiators  said they settled on a unified draft text for the accord.

NCCT

Nai Hong Sar, leader of the Nationwide Cease-fire Coordination Team (NCCT), which represents the KIA and 15 other ethnic rebel groups the talks, said members were concerned about the recent fighting which was a setback to the peace process.

“We are very concerned about it. We are disappointed and have lost trust in [the talks].”

He said the success of the talks would depend on whether the Myanmar government shows it is willing to make peace.

“It depends a lot on their attitude,” he said.

“There will be delays and it will be very difficult to reach the nationwide cease-fire. We are still disagreed on having one policy on the nationwide cease-fire.”

Thousands displaced

The KIA’s political wing has claimed that the recent fighting has displaced up to 10,000 people, though sources from the Myanmar army’s northern command downplayed the numbers, Myanmar Eleven reported.

Local NGO Karuna Myanmar said that since the fighting flared up, some 5,000 refugees have fled to Muse and Nanhkan and more have crossed into China, according to the report.

In addition, up to 3,000 local villagers have fled to the Man Wain Gyi displaced persons’ camp, according to the report.

Some 800 families living in the La Gut Yan refugee camp who had been displaced from their homes in previous fighting had also fled to the Man Wain Gyi camp, it said.

Refugees who crossed the border are facing difficulties with the Chinese authorities, it said.

The fighting came as the KIA’s Deputy Commander-in-Chief General Gwan Maw was on a trip to the United States, on what is believed to be the highest-level visit by a KIA leader to the U.S.

Gwan Maw met with human rights and political affairs officials at the State Department in Washington on Monday and was expected to meet with lawmakers later during his 12-day trip.

Reported by Tin Aung Khine, Kyaw Myo Min, and Kyaw Kyaw Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

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