Authorities tried to prevent hundreds of residents from villages in Kachin State’s Tanai Township fleeing their homes this week after fighting erupted between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), according to local civil society groups.
Relief workers said between 500 and 700 villagers fled their homes on Wednesday alone, but were deterred from traveling by boat to the safety of Tanai town (also known as Danai and Tanaing) by authorities.
“The villagers, including children, are waiting at the jetty as local administrators backed by police do not allow them to leave,” said Daw Doi Bu, a former lower house parliamentarian now in Tanai providing public-parliament relations training.
She said some 405 residents—mostly young children, women, and elderly—from N’Ga Ga and Nam Byu villages in Tanai Township used waterways to travel to Tanai, as clashes occurred on the road, and were currently taking refuge in the town’s churches and monasteries.
The Burma Army attacked KIA Battalion 14’s Maisa outpost near Nam Byu on Saturday, according to KIA spokesperson Lt-Col Naw Bu. “Defensive action occurred from Saturday until Monday,” he said, adding that separate clashes near N’Ga Ga continued until 3 p.m. on Tuesday.
Lt-Col Naw Bu said no casualties were reported and the Burma Army outnumbered the five men at the Maisa outpost by tenfold.
Four artillery shells had fallen on a home in Kawng Ra Village—10 miles from Tanai town—injuring a woman and her two daughters, according to local residents.
U Naw Tar, from the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) in Tanai, told The Irrawaddy that the KBC met with township officials on Wednesday but was unsuccessful in securing freedom of movement.
“We have asked for help from the state chief minister and parliamentarians,” he said.
Among the displaced were Burman and Shan migrant workers employed in local amber and gold mines, according to Daw Doi Bu. Most had already returned to their homes, she added.
The recent Tatmadaw offensive appeared to be an attempt to cut a KIA source of income, said spokesperson Lt-Col Naw Bu, as the Tanai area is home to a number of gold and amber mines. A 17-year bilateral ceasefire between the KIA and Burma Army broke down in 2011.
On Monday, villages in Tanai Township—including N’Ga Ga and Nam Byu—received Burma Army instructions to leave mining operations in the area by June 15, according to residents, who said that the letters, delivered by helicopter, had neither date nor signature so were largely ignored.
The mines include Htan Palar, Wan Palar, Aung Lut, Tone Mani, Choungzone, Nambyu, Ja Awng Bar, Zeephyu Kone, Nyaung Pin Kone and Namt Kun mines, according to the leaflet widely shared on social media.
The official population of Tanai town, according to the 2014 census, is nearly 50,000, but the number of workers in nearby mines could be well over 100,000, according to relief workers.
Khin Oo Tha and Nang Lwin Hnin Pwint contributed to this report.