Escalating Kachin Fighting Drives 1,000 Villagers to State Capital Myitkyina

kachin-file-04272018.jpg Armed fighters of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) ethnic group take a cigarette break amid fighting in in northren Myanmar's Kachin state, in file photo.

Renewed fighting in the long-running conflict between the national army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has driven about 1,000 villagers to flee to shelter in and around Myitkyina, the capital of northern Myanmar’s Kachin state, local officials said on Friday.

The latest fighting in Injanyang township flared up on April 24 and two days later local residents started fleeing to Tanphaye village on the outskirts of Myitkina, where some 1,000 are now staying in nearby woods.

The villagers are receiving assistance from the Kachin Democracy Party and Kachin Baptist Convention in Tanphaye Village, a local leader told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“There are two internally displaced persons (IDPs) groups in Tanphaye Village. One lower house MP and one state MP are helping IDPs in this village,” said Manam Tu Ja, chairman and founder of the Kachin State Democracy Party.

“I will go there in two days as well,” he added.

KIA spokesman Col Naw Bu told RFA that the village of Injanyan falls within the operating area of the KIA’s Fourth Battalion, and it came under fire on April 25.

“The government army started airstrikes on April 25 as well ground (attacks) in this area. Some villagers fled to Myitkyina and some are hiding in forest,” he said.

“Small battles are going on every day. As Injanyan Village is only two miles away from KIA’s Fourth Battalion, the government army’s heavy weapons dropped in the village and villagers got injured,” the colonel said, without elaborating on the number of casualties.

The latest fighting, which follows battles in Kachin’s Tanaing and Hpakant townships that stranded 2,000 villagers with little food last week, drew a statement of concern from the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar.

“The U.S. Embassy is deeply concerned about intensified fighting in Kachin State, which has forced thousands of people to flee their homes,” the mission said in a statement, which also covered fighting in Shan and Kayin states.

“We urge all parties to cease fighting. We call upon the government, including the military, to protect civilian populations and allow humanitarian assistance to be delivered to those affected by the conflicts,” it said.

The Myanmar military and KIA, an ethnic armed group, have engaged in skirmishes since 2011, when a 17-year bilateral cease-fire agreement between the two sides broke down.

Over the years, the hostilities in a region that lies in far northern Myanmar between India and China have displaced more than 90,000 people who have sought safety in Buddhist monasteries, Christian churches, or displaced persons camps in the state.

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.

The Myanmar military has accused the KIA of illegally using the area’s natural resources and taking money from mining businesses that should otherwise go to the state, while the ethnic militia believes the government army has stepped up its attacks on rebel-held territory in hopes of gaining control before the next round of peace negotiations.

Reported by Kyaw Thu and Nay Rein Kyaw for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Paul Eckert.

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