It has been one year to the day since the Burma Army rained artillery fire onto a rebel training facility in Kachin State, killing 22 cadets from various non-state armed groups. Much has changed in the past year; a ceasefire has been signed between the government and eight rebel groups, and a Nov. 8 general election has determined that Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) will form the next government.
But in parts of Kachin State, sweeping change does not look likely. In fact, the situation has worsened for many in the conflicted hinterlands, where government troops continue to attack the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), leaving many civilians terrified, displaced and desperate.
On Nov. 14, fighting broke out between the Burma Army and the KIA in the state’s Mohnyin District, near the border with Sagaing Division. Two days later, the government employed airstrikes against the KIA’s eighth brigade, just two miles from the district’s principal town. The Irrawaddy recently spoke with La Nan, a spokesperson for the KIA, about the latest situation on the ground and the root causes of the conflict.
Could you update us on the current situation in Mohnyin?
The fighting on Nov. 16 was extreme, but there was no counter-attack from our side. The government attacked with artillery, helicopters and ground forces against our small bases. I can say that this week’s operation by the government was the biggest one, and we didn’t fight back because we had already withdrawn our troops on the 15th, so they were attacking empty camps.
Residents say the fighting took place only two miles from Mohnyin Town, though you seem to be saying there were no KIA troops there.
Mohnyin District is a centrally important location for the government, and I think they may have some military purpose. It’s possible that they want to show their military capabilities and intentionally pose a threat to the local people in Mohnyin.
During the election period, the Union Solidarity and Development Party [USDP] thought that they would win in the Mohnyin constituency. To their disappointment, they lost to the NLD candidate. So maybe they are just displaying their military might to the residents, because, even if there is no KIA camp, loud explosions will scare people. That’s my assumption.
So the attack involved air strikes?
That is correct, and everyone in Mohnyin knows it. Yesterday [Monday] at about noon, two helicopters bombed Mohnyin and the next air crew kept up the assault until 5pm—they really did it. Whenever the government clashes with the KIA, they use air operations.
How many people were injured in the clashes, and what is the situation of the KIA’s defense?
Fighting began suddenly on Nov. 14, they invaded powerfully, in the evening we abandoned frontline camps and also deserted Battalion 8 on Nov. 16. They attacked with artillery and helicopters, so we had no chance to fight back with our small weapons and we moved on to the next place.
We did not fight back to avoid injuries, but anyway, there will be injuries and deaths from both sides of the clash. About two soldiers were injured on our side, but I can’t say exactly how many people were hit and I have heard that some government soldiers were also wounded. Mohnyin residents said several wounded soldiers arrived but we don’t know the numbers yet. How many soldiers died in the fighting is not really the point, the main point is that there is a reason they attacked us.
Has there been conflict in Mohnyin before?
There has been almost three decades of silence in Mohnyin. Armed clashes happened between the government and the KIA in 2011, but there were no sparks in Mohnyin. The KIA constantly instructed the comrades to avoid any upsets because of the election period. Lower fronts also follow the instruction of the headquarters. The conflict in Mohnyin is one-sided, so think about who plotted the fighting.
How will this incident impact the relationship between the government and the KIA, and how will the KIA attempt to resolve it?
We can’t say right now how we will approach this. We want to resolve all of the current problems. We want peace, and we are willing to march toward political dialogue and keep trying to proceed. We will resist if the government army gears up its offensive. After this conflict, we will not attack their battalions as revenge. A new government will emerge from the current political situation. We will discuss with the new government about their policy on armed ethnic groups, and we will activate political debates. From our side, we will show restraint to prevent fighting in Kachin State.