Fighting Escalates in Kachin State

By Saw Yan Naing 12 September 2013

RANGOON — Fighting is increasing in north Burma’s Kachin State, after peace talks last week between the government and delegations of ethnic armed groups in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai ended without agreement.

A few days after the Chiang Mai meeting, sources from Kachin State reported a rise in clashes, saying the Burma Army was reinforcing troops and could be preparing for another major offensive against rebels from the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).

Fighting was reported early this week in the southern part of the state—in Machang Baw Township, Banmaw District—as well as in the northern part of neighboring Shan State.

Khon Ja, a Kachin peace advocate at the Rangoon-based Kachin Peace Network, a humanitarian organization that assists civilians displaced by the war in north Burma, told The Irrawaddy, “My native village [Nam Lim Pa] has been under attack for three days.”

“It is an offensive,” she said on Thursday. “It is not a regular troop exchange. We also heard rumors that they [the Burma Army] will use air strikes. It is a kind of threat.”

Khon Ja’s hometown is in Mansi Township, south of Banmaw District. According to local sources there, government troops are reopening three new war fronts in the Putao area of northern Kachin State, as well as in northern Shan State along the pipeline in Kut Kai and Muse townships.

Fighting has broken out in different areas, Khon Ja said, but most clashes have been reported in north and northeast Kachin State as well as northern Shan State, where dam projects as well as mining, pipeline, agriculture and other business projects will be conducted. Although contracts were drawn up and signed in 2010, these projects have not been operating due to on-and-off hostilities since a ceasefire between the government army and the KIO broke down in June 2011.

Sources from Kachin State say government troops have attempted to clean up important business regions and allow the projects to operate. In late August this year, clashes occurred in Putao, near the site where Burmese tycoon Tay Za was reportedly granted a 100,000 acre (40,000 hectare) logging concession by the government that would allow him to cut down vast swathes of valuable, pristine teak forests.

The KIO has become a major problem for Burma’s nominally civilian government, which has sought to end decades of civil wars by signing ceasefires with ethnic armed groups. Since coming to power in 2011, President Thein Sein has signed ceasefires with 13 groups. The government held peace talks with the KIO early this year and signed a tentative seven-point peace deal with the group in late May but has yet to achieve a ceasefire.

The KIO plays an important political role in the alliance of 11 ethnic armed groups, the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), because it chairs the alliance.

Sources close to the Burmese government peace delegation say Minister Aung Min from the President’s Office and members of the Myanmar Peace Center (MPC), a government-associated organization, were displeased after the Chiang Mai meeting because UNFC leaders indirectly turned down a government invitation to come to Burma and sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement next month.

Nai Hong Sa, general-secretary of the UNFC, said, “We asked them, since we have been separately signing ceasefire agreements, why do we need to sign another nationwide ceasefire?”

“We didn’t reach an agreement in the meeting. When they asked us to go and sign the nationwide ceasefire accord, we told them that we will have to talk about it again in detail.”

In light of the peace talks, Khon Ja from the Kachin Peace Network criticized the continued clashes in Kachin State.

“This kind of act will hurt the trust-building between the government and the KIO while they are dealing with peace talks,” she said.