Blasts Shake Kachin State as Burma Army Takes High Ground

By Lawi Weng 9 May 2016

RANGOON — The Burma Army seized two mountain posts from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) over the weekend following two days of fighting, according to local sources in Hpakant, a jade mining boomtown in central Kachin State.

Meanwhile, at least six bomb blasts were reported in Hpakant on Sunday, according to Thet Zaw Oo, a town police officer, who said no one was injured. The perpetrators of the bombings remain unknown. Other sources reported one injury but no deaths.

“In April, we detained seven ethnic Shan whom we suspected of trading drugs,” said Lt-Col Naw Buu, a KIA commander in Hpakant. “We released them on May 3, but the Burma Army was still upset with us for that. That’s why they attacked us.”

The mountain outposts are at the vanguard of a line of defenses protecting the KIA’s regional headquarters. According to KIA sources, the Burma Army’s battalion was still two miles of rough, mountainous terrain away from the group’s stronghold, and the fighting was ongoing.

The sources, however, were unable to confirm the casualty figures for either the Burma Army or the KIA.

The weekend hostilities mark the first time fighting has broken out between the Burma Army and the KIA since the new National League for Democracy (NLD) government took power at the end of March. But Hpakant is no stranger to war; in 2011 and 2012, large-scale fighting displaced 90,000 ethnic Kachin as a 17-year ceasefire between the government and KIA broke down.

The Burma Army has continued to fight the KIA and other ethnic armed groups in Shan, Kachin and Arakan states despite pledges from the new civilian government to bring peace to war-weary Burma.

The NLD has announced that it intends to host an inclusive peace conference, though exactly which ethnic armed groups will be eligible to attend remains unclear. The KIA is one of many groups that did not sign last year’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, which was criticized for excluding many of the country’s most active armed groups.

The NLD has not set a timetable for the peace talks, but State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has been quoted as saying she hopes to convene the dialogue within the next two months.