KIA Brigade in Shan State Further Complicates Peace Prospects

By Lawi Weng 4 March 2016

RANGOON — A peace broker with ties to the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) says the ethnic armed group is unlikely to heed calls from the government’s lead peace negotiating body for a de-escalation of its combat posture, after a KIA brigade reasserted itself in conflict-wracked northern Shan State last week.

Dau Kha, the KIA-affiliated envoy who is a member of the Myitkyina-based Kachin Peace Creation Group, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday: “We will not care about whether they like it or not. If we had to listen to the Burma Army on what we should do, our ethnic groups would not even have our own armed groups.”

He was referring to a statement issued by the Union Peacemaking Working Committee (UPWC) on Monday, condemning the KIA for Brigade 6’s presence in the Mong Baw, Mong Ko and Boung Sai areas of northern Shan State. The UPWC is chaired by outgoing Vice President Sai Mauk Kham and includes members of the military, senior-most among them Burma’s deputy commander-in-chief, Gen. Soe Win.

“We do not like what has been done by the Burma Army, therefore we formed our armed group to fight them. Let them say whatever they want about the establishment of our new brigade, their voice will be quieted soon,” Dau Kha said.

KIA Brigade 6 was reportedly founded under-low profile circumstances in 2011, with the unit making a reemergence last week as territorial claims in northern Shan State have become muddled by conflict. A Facebook account associated with the Kachin rebel group purported to feature photos of a ceremony marking Brigade 6’s reemergence on Feb. 26.

Three days later, the UPWC condemned the latest developments in Shan State, where fighting has flared in recent months between the Burma Army and ethnic armed rebel groups including the KIA and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).

In its statement, the UPWC said: “While the government is working to achieve national reconciliation, peace and development, and an end to armed conflict in the country, we have heard that the KIA has opened another new military brigade. … While Myanmar is undertaking a peace process, the opening of a new KIA brigade will be detrimental.”

Last week’s news would appear to place two KIA brigades in northern Shan State, with Brigade 4 already based in the Kutkai area. The KIA has eight brigades in total and is the second largest ethnic armed group in Burma, with an estimated 7,000 to 10,000 troops, according to Myanmar Peace Monitor, a project tracking the country’s decades-long ethnic conflict.

A 17-year ceasefire agreement between the KIA and the Burmese government collapsed in 2011, and northern Burma has since been the theater for some of the most sustained fighting in recent years of the country’s long-running civil war.

The KIA was one of several ethnic armed groups that declined to sign a so-called “nationwide” ceasefire agreement with the government last year. Its troops, along with those of the fellow non-signatory TNLA, have clashed with the Burma Army on several occasions since the Oct. 15 signing of the ceasefire.

In northern Shan State, TNLA forces also claim to have clashed with the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), a signatory to the October accord.

Correction: Due to a note-keeping error, a previous version of this story erroneously attributed quotes to Lamai Gum Ja. Like Dau Kha, whose remarks appear above, Lamai Gum Ja is a member of the Kachin Peace Creation Group, but the latter did not comment for this story. The Irrawaddy regrets the error.