RANGOON – Shortly after a recess in what appeared to be positive peace negotiations in Rangoon, officials in Kachin State said the Burma Army launched an aerial attack on a rebel base along a frequent timber trade route near the border with China.
Minor clashes continued on Monday morning for the third day, according to Daung Khar, head of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) technical team based in the state capital Myitkyina.
No rebel casualties have been reported, but Daung Khar said that several government troops had been killed in the clashes. The Burma Army could not immediately be reached for comment.
“Only one of our troops was seriously wounded,” the official said, “But many from the Burma Army were killed and wounded.” He added that the attack was carried out by both ground troops and the air force on a rebel base in Mathet Yan village in Mansi Township. The Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the armed wing of the KIO, ultimately withdrew all troops from the area to avoid casualties, he said.
“We care about our human resources,” said Daung Khar, “this is why we had to withdraw. It was a fight to seize the base.”
The KIO official said that the Burma Army launched the attack after firing at trucks carrying timber from central Burma’s Sagaing Division. The trucks passed several government checkpoints, he said, but they came under attack after crossing into KIO territory, which they travel through to enter China illegally.
Raw timber exports were banned in April 2014, and all overland cross-border timber trade remains illicit. Nonetheless, truckloads frequently pass through both government and rebel roads to get to China, paying bribes along the way.
Daung Khar said the Burma Army Light Infantry Battalion 317 followed the trucks through government-controlled areas and attacked them once they had crossed enemy lines into Mansi on Saturday.
After battling with frontline ground troops, he said, air force jets were brought in as reinforcement. After more than two days of fighting, KIA troops were removed to escape the onslaught. Daung Kha said the Burma Army has seized about 10 KIA bases since the start of this year.
Just last week Kachin leadership travelled to Burma’s capital Naypyidaw for a landmark meeting with President Thein Sein and Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing before heading to Rangoon to attend the seventh and possibly last round of peace talks geared toward reaching a nationwide ceasefire agreement. Government and ethnic negotiators alike left the meetings on Sunday expressing unprecedented confidence that an accord was near.
Min Zaw Oo, director of ceasefire negotiation and implementation at the government-backed Myanmar Peace Center, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the center had advised relevant parties to resolve the issue.
“We heard that [the Burma Army] tried to block timber trucks going into China, and then fighting broke out. We have informed the KIA and the government to meet and negotiate,” said Min Zaw Oo.
The seventh round of peace talks paused for recess on Sunday and is scheduled to resume on March 30. Government and ethnic representatives undertook a lengthy and turbulent peace process roughly three years ago after decades of devastating civil wars, though several of the country’s ethnic rebel forces have continued to clash with the government throughout the course of the negotiations.