RANGOON — Fighting between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) continued over the weekend in southern Kachin State’s Mansi Township, where fresh clashes displaced about 2,000 villagers, according to Kachin aid groups.
The skirmishes came as KIA Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Gun Maw visited Rangoon, where he said that the militia hopes for a ceasefire with the Army but cautioned that political negotiations need to come after a ceasefire.
“The main issue is a guarantee about political dialogue,” Gun Maw told media in Rangoon on Monday. “We can only know how solid the guarantee is if the parties sit down and discuss.”
However, ongoing fighting in Kachin State is clouding prospects of a ceasefire between the Burma Army and the KIA.
On Saturday, government troops fought with KIA fighters for about three hours near the village of Nam Lim Pa, causing ethnic Kachin villagers to flee into the surrounding forest, said Naw Din, the manager of the Karuna Myanmar Social Service Relief Team based in Bhamo.
Many of displaced walked for a day and a night to reach the nearby village of Maw Win Gyi, the aid worker said, adding that more Kachin villagers continued to arrive on Monday morning.
“Our members are preparing food for them. Our staff cook food, so they can eat when they arrive there [Maw Win Gyi village],” said Naw Din, whose organization supports internally displaced people’s camps in Bhamo Township.
He said local aid organizations struggled to take care of the growing number of displaced villagers, adding that an estimated 2,000 people had fled from Nam Lim Pa village over the weekend. Many of them had previously fled other villages and sought refuge in Nam Lim Pa, but this village had now become too dangerous, Naw Din explained.
The border of southern Kachin State and northern Shan State has seen fighting since late October, with the violence breaking out shortly before the government was scheduled to hold peace talks with 17 rebel groups.
The Burma Army supposedly began operations in the KIA-controlled area of Mansi Township to tackle illegal logging in the area. Thousands of people from several villages have fled their homes to escape the continuing violence.
Maran Seng Aung, of the Kachin Peace Creation Group in the state capital Myitkyina, said gun battles had raged in parts of Mansi throughout the weekend. “There is often fighting in this area. Some fighting lasted 3 hours, some 2 hours. Sometimes the fighting stopped for a while and then it starts again,” he told The Irrawaddy on Monday.
According to Maran Seng Aung, the fighting is the result of a Burma Army operation that aims to cut communications between the KIA troops in Kachin State and Shan rebels in Shan State.
“The border line between Kachin and Shan State Army-North [troops] is in this area. They [Burma Army troops] want to cut off the [communication] line and this is why they are fighting there,” he said.
Echoing Gen Gun Maw’s comments, Maran Seng Aung said the fighting could derail ceasefire talks between the KIA and Naypyidaw, while also undermining government efforts to sign a nationwide ceasefire with 17 ethnic armed groups.
“This fighting could cause damage to the peace process. They need to build more trust and should stop fighting,” he said, adding that he hoped upcoming peace talks would put an end to the fighting in Mansi.
During a meeting in Myitkyina on Nov. 5, the government’s chief peace negotiator Aung Min presented 17 of Burma’s ethnic armed groups with a draft nationwide ceasefire proposal. The sides are scheduled to hold another round of talks on the proposal in the Karen State capital Hpa-an next month.
Gun Maw said that the Burma government needs to follow-up the ceasefire proposal with discussions about Burma’s political future, with the KIA and other ethnic minority militias seeking greater local autonomy for their homelands. Those demands have long been resisted by the government, which has been fighting with the KIA since a 1994 ceasefire broke down in June 2011.
“There are many things to discuss between the two sides,” the KIA Vice Chief of Staff said on Monday. “We had a 17-year ceasefire in the past, but there was no political dialogue, and in the end more fighting.
“Without a political process after another ceasefire, it will just stay a ceasefire,” he warned.
This article was updated on Nov. 18, 2013 at 5:30 pm.