Fresh Fighting in Hpakant Sends 100 Villagers Fleeing

By Lawi Weng 17 June 2015

RANGOON — Fresh skirmishes have broken out between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), with local sources claiming over 100 villagers were displaced and hiding in the jungle near Hpakant.

Fighting began 20 miles east of the town on Monday when the Burma Army entered a KIA controlled area without advance warning, according to Lamai Gum Ja, a spokesman for the KIA-affiliated Kachin Peace Creation Group.

“We heard that the Burma Army went to attack our KIA Battalion No.6,” he said. “This is why fighting broke out. We do not yet have all the information on the ground.”

He added that there were no confirmed reports of casualties and he expected to learn more about the aftermath of the battle on Thursday.

A member of Karuna Myanmar Social Services, who requested anonymity, told The Irrawaddy that initial fighting lasted one hour on Monday, but intermittent skirmishes had continued through to Wednesday in Sai Ja and Awang Hla villages. He said many villagers had fled into the jungle and relief efforts had been hampered by an inability to contact those who had left their homes.

“Our members could not travel into the village because the Burma Army blocked all roads in. We do not know their current situation or even what is happening there,” he said, adding that the KBC and other religious groups were waiting on travel permissions for the area from local authorities in Hpakant.

The KIA is one of the only major ethnic armed groups in Burma that has not reached a bilateral ceasefire agreement. Last week marked the fourth anniversary of renewed conflict with the Burmese government, after a previous ceasefire broke down in June 2011.

Hpakant saw fierce clashes in January after KIA troops detained three police officers and Kaman Du Naw, the Kachin State transportation minister. The resulting firefights displaced more than 1,000 area residents.

Col. Maran Zau Taung, a KIA officer stationed in the state capital Myitkyina, has reportedly traveled to Laiza this week to meet with the rebel group’s leaders and discuss a resolution to the recurring armed conflicts in Hpakant.