Fresh Clashes Reported Near Hpakant

By Kyaw Kha 20 November 2012

Fresh fighting was reported near the jade-mining center of Hpakant in Kachin State on Tuesday, a day after government troops fired artillery shells at two villages located along a transit route used by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

According to local residents, a major clash broke out at around 2 pm today in Lonkint, a town adjacent to Hpakant, after KIA forces ambushed a Burmese army convoy carrying food and munitions. The government forces fired back with heavy artillery, the sources said.

This latest outbreak of fighting comes after a Burmese military command based in Hpakant started shelling the villages of Lamaungkon and Mawmaungkon at around 10 am on Monday, forcing local schools to close.

“The government troops fired once every half hour, but there was no return fire from the other side,” said Darchi La Saing, a member of the main opposition party the National League for Democracy party in Hpakant.

“People are very worried. Some schools were closed immediately and parents were called to take their children home,” he added.

The targeted villages are located around five km north of a Burmese army base, and were reportedly being used as transit points for KIA Brigade 2 troop movements.

Residents of the two villages said that none of the shells fired in their direction came into their villages, but hit areas close by.

“It wasn’t face-to-face fighting. They [government troops] just opened fired from their base and didn’t hit my village. But we were very frightened,” said Ba Win, a resident of Lamaungkon.

Capt La Dwe, a KIA Battalion 6 company commander under Brigade 2, told The Irrawaddy last Friday that tensions between the two armies have been rising in the area since the government started sending more troops and weapons recently.

Fighting in Hpakant Township between government and KIA forces began in late August, and has so far resulted in the displacement of more than 8,000 people from around 20 surrounding villages.

Officials at refugee camps in Hpakant said, however, that most of those driven away from their homes have gone back to their places of origin and only around 2,000 people are currently staying in eight camps.

Meanwhile, sources in Lonkint say that roads near the area have been closed by the Burmese army for the past five days, causing a shortage of some foods.

So far, the ongoing armed conflict in Kachin State, which started on June 9 last year, has left nearly 100,000 people homeless.

In late October, the KIA’s politcal arm, the Kachin Independence Organization, met with a government delegation in Ruili, a Chinese town on the Sino-Burmese border, but no agreement was made and fighting continued.