KIA, Myanmar Army Clash for Several Days in N. Shan State

By Lawi Weng 23 April 2019

The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Myanmar Army have engaged in a series of clashes since late last week in northern Shan State’s Muse Township as the end of the military’s self-imposed four-month truce nears, sources on both sides said.

The Myanmar military confirmed the clashes to The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, saying the two sides had clashed three times in northern Shan State between the end of Thingyan and April 22.

However, Colonel Naw Bu, a spokesperson for the KIA, told The Irrawaddy that the fighting continued through Tuesday. He said the Myanmar Army (or Tatmadaw)’s Infantry Division No. 99 had attacked the KIA’s Battalion No. 36, which is under the control of KIA Brigade No. 6, in the Mungbaw area of northern Shan State.

“The fighting broke out on April 18 … in the area of KIA Battalion No. 36. The fighting began as skirmishes [before intensifying],” he said.

The Myanmar Army has also deployed more troops in the area of KIA Battalion No. 9, under the control of its Brigade No. 6, in Kutkai Township, where tensions are high, according to the KIA.

The KIA believes the Myanmar Army deployed more troops and launched military operations because it wants to take over the areas currently under the control of the two KIA battalions.

The Myanmar Army used both infantry and artillery units to attack KIA Battalion No. 36, according to Col. Naw Bu. He said a Myanmar Army artillery unit based in the 105-Mile Economic Zone in Muse, on the Chinese border, had shelled the area from a distance to aid the ground troops.

“They launched a military offensive in a bid to control our area,” he said.

Tatmadaw spokesman Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the Myanmar military clashed on three occasions with a combined force of KIA and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) fighters in an area under the Tatmadaw’s Northeast Command in northern Shan State between April 18 and 22.

However, Brigadier-General Tar Phone Kyaw of the TNLA yesterday denied that his troops were involved in the latest fighting, telling The Irrawaddy that the Tatmadaw’s claim to have been attacked by a joint force was untrue.

The Tatmadaw’s Brig-Gen. Zaw Min Tun said the clashes happened while “the Tatmadaw troops were just doing their administrative work and conducting regular movements in the area in northern Shan State.” He added that there had been no engagements in Kachin State.

“Our troops are there already and doing their regular tasks; they are neither [newly deployed] columns nor battalions,” he said.

The engagements have raised concerns among residents that tensions will increase as the end of the Tatmadaw’s unilateral ceasefire approaches.

The KIA engaged in heavy fighting with the Myanmar Army last year, causing thousands of Kachin people to flee their homes and become IDPs. But the Myanmar Army did not launch a military offensive in Kachin this year, so the region has been more peaceful than last year. However, all Kachin IDPs want to go home, and Kachin leaders are in ongoing negotiations with the Tatmadaw to allow them to return.

Col. Naw Bu said that the resumption of fighting before the official end of the Tatmadaw’s four-month ceasefire was not a good sign.

The government’s National Reconciliation and Peace Center (NRPC) and the KIA have agreed to meet on April 29 and 30 in Muse. The KIA wants a bilateral ceasefire agreement in place before it enters a political dialogue.

Asked whether the Kachin group will sign the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), Col. Naw Bu said the KIA will continue to discuss those points that require further negotiation before it can sign the agreement.

General Gun Maw, the vice chairman of the Kachin Independence Organization, told The Irrawaddy two weeks ago that there were 35 points relating to the NCA that his organization still wants to discuss with the Myanmar government.

He said his organization seeks to perfect the NCA so that once groups have signed it there will be no need for further fighting. Once this condition has been met, his organization will sign the NCA, he said.

The Tatmadaw’s Brig-Gen. Zaw Min Tun said that “[Negotiations through] the NRPC path are the best option to reduce the tension” when the government negotiators meet the KIA next week. He did not elaborate on whether the Tatmadaw would be meeting with anyone from the KIA after the group’s representatives meet with the NRPC.