Twenty-three cadets killed by Burmese artillery fire on Wednesday were not members of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) but trainees from four other non-state armies, the KIA confirmed.
La Nan, a spokesperson for the KIA, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that four Kachin commanders were among those injured, but that all of the deceased were newly arrived trainees from armed groups allied with Kachin rebels: All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF); Arakan Army (AA); Chin National Front (CNF); and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).
All four armed groups released public statements this week condemning the attack and questioning the government’s commitment to peace.
Two of the armed groups have not reached bilateral ceasefires with the government, while the ABSDF and the CNF reached agreements within the last two years.
The TNLA, which is believed to number around 1,500 troops, has frequently clashed with the Burma Army in its territories in northern Shan State. Fighting between the TNLA and the government resumed as recently as Thursday, when fire was exchanged between rebels and the Burma Army’s 88th Brigade in Mong Tong and Namatu townships.
Tah Ban La, a TNLA spokesperson, said that Thursday’s clashes were the sixth exchange of fire this month. More than 150 clashes between the two armies have been reported since the start of this year, he said.
Thursday’s exchange left no casualties, but the military academy attack left 11 TNLA soldiers dead, he said. According to statements released by the respective groups, eight of the deceased were Arakanese, two were Chin and two were members of the ABSDF.
“Such attacks undermine trust, which ethnic people are trying to build with the government. It is doubtful that the government is committed to peace-building,” said Tah Ban La.
On Wednesday, government troops fired several artillery shells near the Kachin rebel headquarters in Laiza. The munitions landed on a KIA officers training facility about 10km from the town. Twenty cadets died in the initial blastand three others later died from their injuries. Another 20 wounded are still in hospital.
Four of the injured were KIA commanders who were conducting an officers’ training session, and two are in critical condition, according to La Nan of the KIA.
Kachin State Minister of Border Security Col. Than Aung said at a press conference on Thursday that the shots were fired as a “warning” after Kachin soldiers ambushed government troops while they were building a road. He said that the academy was not the army’s intended target, troops were unaware of the training session and needed no higher approval to launch the munitions.
The KIA denied that its troops wrongfully attacked Burmese soldiers and insisted that the deadly attack was targeted and intentional. Other ethnic representatives have also expressed skepticism of the army’s statement and concerns about the incident’s impact on peace negotiations.
The Burmese government has been at war with a number of ethnic armed groups seeking greater autonomyfor more than 60 years. Since the military transferred power to a quasi-civilian government in 2011, ceasefire agreements have been reached with 16 of the country’s most powerful insurgencies, though the KIA and the TNLA remain reluctant to sign bilateral pacts.
Government and ethnic negotiators are currently refining a draft of a nationwide ceasefire agreement and framework for subsequent political dialogue, though talks have recently suffered setbacks.
Wednesday’s attack is believed to be the single most deadly assault by the Burma Army on armed rebels since the peace process began three years ago.