The military is continuing its attacks on territory controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in war-torn northern Myanmar’s Kachin state in the run-up to a national peace conference, and the KIA believes the army’s goal is to take the land before talks begin, an officer from the ethnic militia said Tuesday.
“The government army wants to control the area before the peace conference, and that’s why it has been cleaning KIA troops out of the region,” said Lieutenant Colonel Naw Bu, spokesman of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the KIA’s political wing.
Government soldiers launched air strikes in the Tanaing township gold and amber mining region, an area controlled by the KIA which relies on its natural resources as a source of income through the levying of a five-percent 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 de facto national leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The next round of talks is scheduled for February.
Naw Bu also said he believes the government military is trying to force the KIO to sign a peace pact through its continued offensives.
The KIO/KIA is not a signatory to the government-backed Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) that eight of the country’s more than 20 ethnic armies signed in October 2015.
The government army, which has accused the Kachin rebel organization of illegally using the area’s natural resources and taking money from mining businesses that should otherwise go to the state, has also continued its attacks to prevent the KIO from making money, Naw Bu said.
“It intends to hurt the KIO’s income with fighting in Tanaing, Mansi, and Sumprabung townships,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
There was no comment from Myanmar’s military, which rarely speaks to the media.
The Myanmar army air-dropped fliers by helicopter in the Tanaing mining region in June 2017, warning residents and mine workers that they had to leave by mid-month, when it planned to clear the area following a new round of fighting with the KIA.
Air raids on KIA camps by the government army this month have killed two people in the Tanaing region and injured 10 others, Naw Bu said.
200 women, children flee
The attacks trapped more than 3,000 mine workers and residents in the area after Myanmar troops blocked roadways during the strikes.
More than 200 women and children who fled fighting in the mining area arrived in Tanaing town and require food and shelter, said a government worker who declined to be named.
About 1,000 people are staying in the town, and some are being treated for injuries at the hospital, he said.
“Authorities are sending only women and children back home, but not the men,” the source said. “They said the [government] army will investigate the men. They need food there.”
Government troops have regularly clashed with the KIA, which controls large swathes of territory in the state, since a 17-year bilateral cease-fire agreement collapsed in 2011. The clashes have left hundreds dead and more than 100,000 displaced.
The KIO/KIA is among the ethnic armed groups that have called for equal rights and greater autonomy within a federal union in the government’s ongoing peace process.
Reported by Nay Rein Kyaw and Tin Aung Khine for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.