KIA Warns Civilians Fighting with Myanmar Military Could Erupt Anytime

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 19 June 2020

YANGON—The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) warned civilians in northern Shan State’s Kutkai this week that clashes could erupt anytime in the area between the ethnic armed group and the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw.

Since June 1, the Myanmar military and the KIA have clashed violently in Kutkai five times. The township has also seen clashes between the Myanmar military and a KIA ally, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).

“[More] clashes can break out anytime. [Civilians] need to be very careful,” KIA spokesman Colonel Naw Bu told The Irrawaddy.

Clashes broke out on June 6 and 7 in Kutkai between the Myanmar military and the KIA, and another round of violence took place from Tuesday to Thursday, creating a climate of fear among Kutkai residents.

Dozens of people taking shelter at a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Zup Awng Village in Kutkai had returned to their villages to farm and search for food, as their community has seen a shortage of food due to COVID-19. The renewed fighting on Wednesday forced around 30 of them to flee back to the camp.

On Thursday, Myanmar military troops reportedly forced five locals in Kutkai to serve as guides for them, holding them until the evening. There was no fighting on Friday as of midday, according to local residents.

The fighting in Kutkai has erupted despite the fact that the Myanmar military has declared a ceasefire due to COVID-19, which is in effect until August 31.

“There was a clash with the KIA around 9 a.m. on Thursday some 2,500 meters from Namhu Village to the west of the Hsenwi-Kutkai Road,” Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy.

He claimed that clashes took place because KIA troops trespassed into territories controlled by the Myanmar military.

But the KIA said it has not reached any agreement with the Myanmar military about troop deployments as it is still in discussions with the Myanmar government and military about signing a bilateral ceasefire agreement.

The Myanmar military spokesman gave the same reason for the clashes on June 6 and 7 in Kutkai. But the KIA said the clashes occurred because the Myanmar military sent three columns of troops to attack a hill that houses the frontline headquarters of KIA Battalion 9.

Col. Naw Bu has urged Kutkai residents to pay close attention to political and military developments in Kutkai as four ethnic armed groups including the KIA, the TNLA, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Arakan Army (AA) are all active in the area.

The TNLA, the MNDAA and the AA, which have dubbed themselves the Brotherhood Alliance, have also announced a unilateral ceasefire effective until August 31. However, there have already been five clashes between the TNLA and the Myanmar military since early June.

Zup Awng IDP camp currently provides shelter for over 1,000 people. Job opportunities are limited due to the COVID-19 crisis and displaced residents have rely on local forests to search for food. But camp advisor U Naung Latt said that since the clashes began, residents can no longer go into the forest.

“We want a ceasefire during the COVID-19 crisis. The government can’t take responsibility to feed the [displaced] people, and no one else can. They have to find food for themselves in forests. Displaced people are now in deep trouble, between COVID-19 problems coupled with renewed clashes,” he said.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.

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