In an attack using heavy weapons, the Myanmar military on Thursday captured several hillside camps operated by an ethnic armed group and killed an unspecified number of enemy soldiers during hostilities in the country’s northernmost Kachin state.
The army said it killed “some” Kachin Independence Army (KIA) soldiers in the attack and seized arms and ammunition, according to a Facebook post on Friday by the office of Myanmar's commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.
The government army seized 22 outposts, four main camps, and 18 small camps belonging to the KIA between Nov. 13, 2017, and Jan. 3, and cut off a popular route that it says the rebel group had been using to smuggle timber to China.
Government soldiers conducting the military operation, which began about 25 miles southwest of the town of Namkham, found and seized camps where the KIA was engaging in smuggling natural resources, including timber, to China, the army said.
The Myanmar army confiscated buildings, vouchers used in the collection of ‘extorted money,’ and small arms and ammunition at the scene, it said.
“A main route which passes illegally through Momeik and Mabein townships and is used to smuggle Myanmar’s precious natural resources and timber to [China] could be closed and placed under [Myanmar army] control,” the Facebook post said.
“The Tatmadaw [Myanmar military] columns are in hot pursuit of fleeing terrorist insurgents and continue to expose main points [of activity], including other illegal routes,” it said.
KIA soldiers from Mangan village in Manweingyi village-tract attempted to shoot down a helicopter used by government forces for administrative affairs on Nov. 27, damaging it slightly, the Facebook post said.
Colonel Naw Bu, spokesman of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the KIA’s political wing, downplayed the Myanmar military’s account of the attacks.
“We don’t have that many camps in this area,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “They [the Myanmar army] got some small posts not by fighting, but because we left them.”
Naw Bu also denied the KIA’s involvement in smuggling timber to China
“The army has talked about how the KIA is smuggling timber to other countries, and it is just to damage the KIA’s image,” he said. “We don’t have any forests in Kachin state. The timber they spoke of is coming from Mandalay and Sagaing region.”
“As far as we know, businessmen, forest officials, and [Myanmar] military officials are engaged in this business, he said, adding that the government army has not tried to stop timber smuggling in the other two areas where businessmen cut down trees, though they do so in Kachin state.
Naw Bu also siad that the fighting between the KIA and government military would not end any time soon.
“Because the government army has been conducting offensive attacks, there will be more fighting as long as it doesn’t retreat.”
Clashes since 2011
The KIA, which controls large swathes of northeastern Kachin state, has regularly engaged in clashes with the Myanmar army since a 17-year bilateral cease-fire agreement collapsed in 2011, forcing about 100,000 residents to flee to safety over the years.
Its territory includes Tanaing township’s gold and amber mining region, on whose natural resources it depends as a source of income through the levying of a five-percent tax on mine operators.
Some of the KIA’s most recent hostilities with the Myanmar military have occurred in Tanaing and in neighboring northern Shan 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 de facto national leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Earlier this week, the KIO reshuffled its top leadership, replacing departing officers with a younger generation of leaders as hostilities between the group's armed wing and government forces continued to flare up.
Reported by Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.