Fresh fighting between Kachin rebels and government troops has erupted in northern Myanmar, causing civilians to flee, local sources said Thursday, in the latest clash defying a temporary cease-fire agreement signed last month.
The Myanmar military fired mortars at positions held by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in the villages of Piekong, Khalon, Shanywa and Lisuywa in Kachin state near the border with China between 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday and 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, a resident told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“Four houses were destroyed by shells from the government army,” the resident said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“It is possible that more fighting may take place because both sides are digging in. The units involved are the government’s No. 128 Infantry and the KIA’s No. 27 Battalion.”
Another resident said at least 100 people were displaced by the fighting and staying in temporary shelters.
“Four villages which are very close to China-Myanmar border were affected by fighting,” the resident said.
“About 100 local people have been staying at a Kachin church and in nearby paddy fields.”
Sources were unable to confirm the number of casualties and officials from the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the political wing of the rebel movement, did not respond to calls for information from the media.
The clash comes despite a temporary cease-fire agreement signed between Myanmar President Thein Sein’s government and the KIO at the end of May in which the two sides agreed to continue holding talks, work on preventing further fighting, and resettle displaced persons.
But Myanmar troops have fought with Kachin rebels at least 21 times since signing the agreement last month, the Associated Press reported on Sunday, quoting KIO spokesman La Nan.
La Nan questioned the government's commitment to the peace process, saying the two sides “cannot build trust just by holding talks” and calling for “a firm commitment to resolve this through a political dialogue.”
He accused the government of using the temporary agreement as a chance to redeploy troops and send military supplies to areas closer to KIA camps so that it could “prepare for the next assault.”
The Kachin have called for greater autonomy and increased representation in Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government, which took power from the former junta in 2011 and set the country on a path to democratic reform.
Thein Sein has signed cease-fire agreements with most of Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups, but the KIO had held out on peace talks until recently.
The two sides had a cease-fire agreement in place for 17 years until it broke down in June 2011. An estimated 100,000 people have been displaced by fighting since then.
Fifteen rounds of peace talks between the government and the KIO have borne little fruit, with the Kachin saying that a political settlement is key to ending hostilities.
Reported by Ye Htet for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.