The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has been at various points of engagement with the Burmese army since 1961 when the Kachins first demanded independence. Later, it called for Kachin autonomy within a federal system—another aspiration which was never fulfilled. In 1994, it reached a ceasefire agreement with the ruling military leaders, this time with a call for no more than development in their region.
Since then, the mountainous terrain of Kachin State has seen much development, including the development of controversial Chinese mega-project investments, such as the Myitsone dam, as well as rampant logging and destructive jade-mining operations.
These projects, which right groups say will extract an enormous social and environmental price from the region, have generated much animosity in KIA circles and among the Kachin public. KIA officials said they were never consulted about these projects, but have instead experienced Burmese military encroachment into their area.
After the KIA rejected a 2010 government order to transform into a border guard force under the central command of the Burma Army, tension began building. Nerves finally snapped on June 9 when fierce and bloody fighting broke out between the KIA and Burmese government forces.
More than 100,000 civilians, mostly ethnic Kachin, Shan and Lisu, are displaced in the months following the outbreak of the conflict.
Fighting peaked in late 2012 and early 2013, with the Burma Army carrying out air strikes against the lightly-armed rebels. In February 2013, fighting slowly quieted down as the KIA and the government began ceasefire negotiations that thus far have failed to produce an agreement.
Timeline of the Kachin conflict:
February 1947—Kachin leaders signed the Panglong Agreement with the Burmese government, which laid the foundation for the creation of a fully autonomous Kachin State.
February 1949—Naw Seng, a Kachin military officer in the Burmese army, defected to the Karen rebels along with his battalion. He then led the first Kachin rebel army in the fight for Kachin independence.
February 1961—Parliament under then Burmese Prime Minister U Nu declared Buddhism the state religion, infuriating the mostly Christian Kachin population.
February 1961—A group of educated young Kachin men founded the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and pledged to fight for a free Kachin republic. Intense fighting with the Burmese army ensued.
August 1963—Burmese Gen Ne Win, who came to power after staging a military coup, held peace talks with ethnic armed forces, including the Kachin. However, negotiations broke down after the ethnic representatives rejected Ne Win’s demands, which included a condition that their armed forces must be concentrated in designated zones and their activities must be disclosed to his regime.
October 1980—Brang Seng, the chairman of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the KIA’s political wing, went to Rangoon and met with Ne Win for peace talks. He asked the Burmese government for Kachin State autonomy with self-determination.
December 1980—The Burmese government rejected the KIO’s demand for the inclusion of autonomous rights in the Constitution, saying the demands had not been accepted “by a vote of the people.” Peace efforts broke down and fighting resumed.
July 1993—KIO delegates negotiated with Burmese military leaders over a ceasefire in KIA-controlled areas in Kachin State and Shan State. The KIO’s major demand was regional development.
February 1994—The KIO signed a ceasefire agreement with the ruling military regime of the State Law and Order Restoration Council.
September 2010—The KIO formally rejected the Burmese government’s Border Guard Force plan, which would subjugate the KIA under Burmese military command. The KIO called for the emergence of a genuine federal state. Naypyidaw subsequently forced the closure of KIA liaison offices in Kachin State.
September 2010—Burma’s Election Commission rejected the registration of three Kachin political parties from running in the country’s first national elections in 20 years, saying the party leaders were linked with the KIA.
May 2011—The KIO sent a letter to the Chinese government to withdraw its investment from a massive hydropower dam project in Kachin State, warning that local resentment against this project could spark a civil war.
June 9, 2011— Fighting erupted between KIO and Burma Army troops when government forces broke the ceasefire and attacked KIA positions along the Taping river east of Bhamo, Kachin State, near the Ta-pein hydropower plant.
September 15, 16 2011—The KIA clashed with troops from Infantry Battalion 37 and Light Infantry Battalion 438 in Winemaw Township. The fighting left two KIA soldiers dead and three others injured. There were no casualty figures for the Burmese side, but KIA troops who seized weapons after the attack said they saw around six dead bodies.
September 30, 2011—President Thein Sein informs Parliament that the Myitsone dam project would be suspended for the duration of his government because of widespread public opposition to the Chinese project. Weeks before, the KIA had blown up two key access bridges to the project site, effectively bringing it to a halt.
December 10, 2011—President Thein Sein announced that he had instructed the Burma Army on December 10 to cease its offensive against the KIA and only act in self-defense.
December 15, 2011—Burma’s military begins using helicopters to move troops around, according to Kachin sources.
May 3, 2012—Amid escalating tensions in northernmost Burma, a government helicopter carrying weapons, ammunition and food to frontline troops reportedly started shelling several bases belonging to the KIO.
August 2012—KIO reported several clashes with Burma Army troops in Hpakant, Kachin State. The clashes reportedly drove people from more than 20 villages to take shelter in 23 churches, monasteries and relief centers in the town of Hpakant, sources say. Local residents estimate the number of refugees at around 6,000.
September 14, 2012—A schoolgirl was killed and at least five other children were injured by a stray artillery shell when two Burmese army units mistakenly exchanged fire with each other for nearly three hours on Thursday near the Kachin State jade mining town of Hpakant, according to local sources.
October 17, 2012—Two Kachin civilians were killed and another three were wounded by 81mm mortar shells when Burmese government troops based in Hpakant Township attacked the village of Maw Mau Bum with artillery fire earlier this week, according to Kachin sources.
December 9-10, 2012—Scores of Burmese soldiers were injured or killed during fighting in various locations controlled by KIA Brigades 1, 2 and 5.
December 28, 2012—Five jet fighters and two helicopters gunships launched heavy attacks against the KIA outposts in Lajayang region, about 11 kilometers from Laiza.
January 2, 2013—The Burmese government confirmed that it carried out airstrikes a few days earlier against the ethnic rebels in northern Kachin, in response to attacks by the KIA.
January 13, 2013—Without warning, the Burma Army fired artillery shells into the civilian neighborhoods of Laiza, killing three civilians and injuring four.
January 18, 2013—Immediately prior to the first international donor conference in Burma, President Thein Sein announced a unilateral ceasefire in the war between the army and the KIA, but heavy government attacks on KIA positions continued regardless.
February 4, 2013—Burmese government and the KIA meet in Ruili, China and agreed to reduce military tension in Kachin State and hold further peace talks later. The event marked the beginning of a significant reduction in fighting.
May 30, 2013—The Burmese government and KIA hold another meeting and say an agreement had been reached, but no ceasefire is signed.
June 24, 2013—Fresh hostilities between the government and ethnic Kachin rebels break out 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 the previous month.
August 17, 2013—Clashes reportedly occurred between the government-backed Kachin Border Guard Force and the KIA in Kachin State.
November 18, 2013 — Fighting between the Burma Army and the KIA breaks out in southern Kachin State’s Mansi Township, where fresh clashes displace about 2,000 villagers, according to Kachin aid groups.
February 13, 2014—Government troops held an operation that killed several Kachin troops and seized a KIA outpost near rebel headquarters in northern Burma.
April 21, 2014 — A week of fighting between KIA forces and the Burmese Army troops left more than 5,000 people displaced in eastern Kachin and neighboring Shan states, according to an aid group.
April 28, 2014—The KIO sent a letter to the Burmese government requesting a meeting on May 10 in order to lessen tensions between the sides.
May 13, 2014— The KIO and the Burmese government agreed to set up a peace monitoring commission during a ceasefire meeting in Myitkyina, Kachin State, but no ceasefire agreement is reached.
June 15, 2014—Fighting between the Burma Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), a KIA ally, intensifies in northern Shan State and hundreds of Palaung civilians are forced to flee. In the months before, the KIA and TNLA were increasingly working together, broadening their cooperation in northern Shan State, including with the Shan State Army-North and ethnic Kokang rebels.
June 26, 2014—Intense fighting between the Burmese military and the KIA reportedly killed at least four government soldiers.
July 18, 2014—The TNLA, a KIA ally, announced they had killed 178 Burma army soldiers in 2014 alone during escalation in northern Shan State, which is also home to Kachin minority villagers.
October 15, 2014—The Burma Army orders more than 1,000 civilians near the jade-mining town of Hpakant to vacate the area because growing tensions with the KIA.
November 16, 2014—Troops from the KIA clash with Burma army forces in eastern Kachin state.
November 19, 2014—The Burma Army fired artillery shells into a KIA training ground near Laiza, killing 22 cadets and injuring 15 others who were attending training at Hka Bhum base.
January 19, 2015—Two volunteer Kachin teachers, aged 20 and 21, from the Kachin Baptist Council (KBC) were raped and murdered in Kaung Kha, near the border town of Muse in Shan State, sparking a public outcry amid allegations of Burma Army involvement. The military denied involvement in the case. Autopsies were conducted and the KBC sent a letter to the president, asking him to hold the perpetrators accountable. The case remains unsolved.
March 31, 2015—The Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), of which the KIO is a member, signed an agreement with government negotiators on the draft text of a nationwide ceasefire accord in Rangoon.
June 8, 2015—On the eve of the fourth anniversary of the current conflict, 56 local and international civil society organizations call for an immediate end to Burma military offensives in northern Shan and Kachin States and an end to restrictions on humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons camps in the area.
(Research by Ba Khaung, Thet Ko Ko, Kyaw Phyo Tha and Paul Vrieze)