Fresh hostilities between the government and ethnic Kachin rebels broke out over the weekend in the Mai Ja Yang region of Kachin State, the latest of more than 20 such flare ups between the two parties since peace talks concluded late last month.
Col James Lum Dau, the deputy chief of foreign affairs for the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the fighting had broken a fragile peace in the area, where a heavy concentration of internally displaced persons (IDPs) exists.
“There had been no fighting for a long time in Mai Ja Yang region, near our Laiza headquarters. But two days ago, they [government troops] came to attack us. Our troops resisted them, it is not surprising.”
The KIO official declined to disclose a casualty count, citing sensitivities due to the KIO’s ongoing engagement with the government’s peace negotiating team.
Several thousand Kachin IDPs have taken refuge in temporary shelters in the Mai Ja Yang region. UN humanitarian aid reached Mai Ja Yang on June 14 after the Burmese government allowed the aid delivery to the KIO-controlled area for the first time in almost a year.
The government lifted its restriction on aid deliveries to KIO-controlled regions two weeks after it reached a peace accord with KIO leaders in Myitkyina on May 30. The two parties agreed on seven points aimed at facilitating further political dialogue in the future.
Among the points, they agreed to undertake efforts to achieve de-escalation and cessation of hostilities and to continue discussions on military matters related to repositioning of troops.
Lum Dau said government troops on the ground were in clear violation of the spirit of the latest accord, and likened the military’s recent actions to attacks, including air strikes, launched against the Kachin rebels late last year.
Some at the time said it was evidence of a military beyond President Thein Sein’s control, after troops seemed to ignore his order for an end to the fighting.
Lum Dau said on Monday that clashes also continued to take place in northern Shan State, where a unit of the KIO’s militant wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) Brigade 4, is based.
“Fighting happens almost every day in northern Shan State, where KIA’s Brigade 4 base is. Our fellow Palaung and Shan also fight alongside,” Lum Dau said, referring to other ethnic militias in Shan State.
On June 14-15, fighting was reported between government troops and the joint forces of ethnic Kachin, Shan and Palaung armed groups known as the Taaung National Liberation Army (TNLA). On June 15, the TNLA claimed that four government soldiers were killed during the recent clashes in Shan State’s Kutkai Township.
The TNLA is believed to have a strategic military alliance with both the KIA and the Shan State Progress Party, formerly known as the Shan State Army-North (SSA-North), another ethnic armed group.
Fighting between the government and KIA troops first broke out in June 2011, shattering a 17-year-old ceasefire agreement.
Gen Gun Maw, the vice-chief of staff of the KIA, told reporters in Myitkyina during the peace talks late last month that his organization would not sign a ceasefire agreement unless an inclusive political dialogue involving all of Burma’s ethnic armed groups was agreed to.
The UN estimates that about 100,000 people have been displaced since fighting between the KIA and the government began two years ago.