Military Accused of Enlisting Locals as Guides in Blast-Wracked Hpakant

By Zarni Mann 11 May 2016

MANDALAY — Residents of the jade-mining town of Hpakant in northern Kachin State say they are living in fear after soldiers from nearby military posts seized several local men, reportedly conscripting them as guides in ongoing hostilities with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Tight security, including a 9pm curfew, has been introduced in the Hpakant area following a series of unexplained explosions this week.

Locals Taraw Kon, Laban Htu, Ban Htwee and another unnamed man from the Hpakant and Lone Kin vicinities are said to have been detained since Saturday by local army battalion Nos. 423 and 425.

The Burma Army and the KIA have clashed in Hpakant Township in recent days. The area has seen recurrent conflict after a 17-year bilateral ceasefire with the government broke down in 2011. It is fiercely contested because of its hugely lucrative jade mines, in which the Burma Army, the KIA and several other armed groups hold stakes.

“They took my son, saying they needed him as a guide to approach the Kachin Independence Army’s Battalion No. 6. They said it would be just for a little while. But he has not returned since,” said the mother of Ban Htwee.

The family said they went to the local Burma Army base to inquire about Ban Htwee but received only a minimal response.

“They just said my son would be home soon. But I’m so worried that my son is going into a battle-torn area,” the mother of Ban Htwee said.

Family members of the other missing men said they had also been conscripted by the Burma Army to work as guides in skirmishes with the KIA.

According to local authorities, there have been 20 explosions across Hpakant Township since Monday. The Irrawaddy previously reported that at least six explosions had occurred in the township on Sunday.

On Monday night, hand grenades were reportedly thrown from motorcycles at a police station and Uru Yadana Kyauk Sein Bridge in Hpakant’s Sai Taung quarter. A police officers’ barracks on the compound burned down in the attack.

On Tuesday morning, police patrolling the Maw Wun area of Hpakant were attacked by hand grenades thrown by motorcyclists. The police fired back, causing local residents to flee in panic.

On Tuesday evening, hand grenades were thrown again near the Sai Taung police station. No causalities were reported.

In response, tight security measures have been introduced in Hpakant, including a strict 9pm curfew.

“We have deployed heavy security at each entrance into town and motorcyclists are stopped at checkpoints. We are also patrolling the whole area to ensure the safety of local people,” said a police officer from Sai Taung police station.

“After 9pm, it is like a ghost town,” said Nau Lat, a local jade miner. “No one dares go out. We can hear gun and artillery fire in the distance. We are now living in fear that the fighting could enter the town, because of the explosions, and are worried about how our livelihoods will be affected.”

“We are also worried that the army could take us as porters or guides into the battle zone,” Nau Lat said. “We feel we have no security, and we receive no protection from the authorities.”