2 Police Injured by Bomb Blast in Hpakant

By Zarni Mann 19 June 2015

MANDALAY — Two police officers were injured by a bomb blast in Hpakant on Wednesday night, following renewed conflict in the jade-rich area of northern Burma’s Kachin State.

Police said three blasts were reported; one in downtown Hpakant and two in the outlying villages.

“There was a blast near the Jade Bridge [in downtown Hpakant] and one at Nant Maw, which left two police officers with minor injuries,” said Aung Myint, a spokesman for the Hpakant Police.

The third explosion took place near a military security office in Sint Mu, another village on the outskirts of town, he said, adding that it was “too early to say who is responsible.”

The two injured officers have been taken to Hpakant General Hospital for treatment and calm has been restored to the town amid heightened security, the spokesman said.

Locals are concerned, however, that conflict between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Burma Army will intensify, causing villagers to flee, local businesses to fold and political rights to be withheld.

Residents worry that elections expected to take place in early November could be cancelled in the area if fighting continues. Hpakant’s electorate was not allowed to vote during the 2012 by-elections because conflict made the area inaccessible to poll workers.

“During the by-election, we couldn’t participate for security reasons, so we worry that we will be excluded again,” said La Moung, a local villager.

Others, such as jade mine operator Rwae Jar, expressed concern that the conflict could damage the local economy.

“We just worry about our own security, and we also worry that the situation will pressure the mining business to shut down,” she said, fearing a repeat of a previous hiatus from which local businesses have just begun to recoup.

Mining was stalled for two years by a government order following a flare-up of conflict in the region, but resumed in September of last year despite security warnings from local officials and industry experts. Conflict erupted again within months of restarting operations, leading many local operators to voluntarily stop working their mines for months.

Clashes between government troops and the KIA have flared intermittently since a ceasefire broke down in mid-2011, with an estimated 100,000 people having been displaced by the violence.

About 100 villagers are believed to have fled after fighting broke out about 20 miles east of Hpakant on Monday. Local sources said they are believed to be hiding in the nearby jungles, and are likely difficult for relief workers to access.

The KIA is one of the only major ethnic armed groups in Burma that has not reached a bilateral ceasefire with the government as negotiators continue their push for a nationwide peace pact.

Kachin State is among the world’s last remaining sources of jade, and is also rich in other gems, minerals and valuable timber. Resource extraction has long been both a major cause and source of revenue for conflict in the remote ethnic state bordering China.