Army Defends Kachin State Clearance Operations

By Htet Naing Zaw 15 August 2017

NAYPYITAW — Military representatives assigned to Parliament argued on Monday that Myanmar Army plans to conduct operations in the contested area of Kachin State’s Tanai Township are in line with the military-drafted 2008 Constitution.

Lt-Col Khin Maung Swe told the Lower House that the army was increasing clearance operations in the Kachin Independence Army (KIA)-controlled area in order to support the government.

“According to the mandate given by the Constitution, we are carrying out area clearance operations on our own initiative with a sense of responsibility and also in line with the law to stop the unlawful acts of KIA insurgents without impacting the lives and property of the people,” he said.

Two other military representatives also seconded his view. Tanai lawmaker U Lin Lin Oo sparked the discussion with a proposal urging the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation and the Kachin State government to properly handle illegal gold and amber mining in the Kachin townships of Tanai and Hpakant.

The three military representatives said the army would take actions in accordance with the Constitution against those who they deem saboteurs of the country and the people, and who cause damage to the environment.

Lt-Col Soe Myint Aung also told the Parliament that according to the Constitution, the army did not need to seek approval in order to protect the resources and environment of the country.

He claimed the KIA operated unlicensed gold and amber mines in the two townships and earned about 2.8 billion kyats in tax per year, which he said the group used on the procurement of arms and ammunitions rather than the development of the state.

Leaders of the KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), and their families were lining their pockets, he added.

“They are indulging in that money and the power of arms, and therefore have no desire for peace and have not signed the NCA [Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement],” said Lt-Col Khin Maung Swe.

“There is illegal mining in those areas because there is no rule of law,” he added.

He also accused the KIA of planning to use locals and migrant workers as human shields to deter Myanmar Army operations.

Lawmaker U Lin Lin Oo does “not want clashes” in the region, he told The Irrawaddy.

“I only want to negotiate between the two sides to avoid clashes. But the army said it would conduct clearance operations, and as it is in the KIA-controlled area, it seems that clashes are unavoidable,” he said.

The KIA conducted mining in the area under the Than Shwe regime, when a truce was in effect, but after 2011, clashes broke out with the KIA expanding its operations to amber mines, according to U Lin Lin Oo of the National League for Democracy (NLD).

Myanmar Army helicopters dropped leaflets in the second week of June, asking people in the mining areas to leave by June 15 or else be recognized as insurgents supporting the KIA. The drop was followed by military operations.

Earlier this month, military representatives submitted a proposal to Kachin State Parliament to designate Hukawng Valley, which includes Tanai Township, as a restricted area. The proposal was put to vote, and failed.

A lawmaker and member of the Lower House Public Affairs Committee who asked for anonymity said the military did not cooperate with the government in undertaking military operations, saying it was in the name of regional security.

“It is difficult for the government to intervene as they gave the reason of security concerns,” the lawmaker told The Irrawaddy.

On May 19, the Myanmar Army Northern Command commander tried to persuade the Kachin State chief minister to impose a curfew in Tanai, but the commander was denied.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.