The Irrawaddy

Ongoing Fighting in Tanai Leaves Mine Workers Trapped

NAYPYITAW — At least four civilians were killed and more than 3,000 workers at gold and amber mines in Tanai Township, Kachin State are trapped amid fighting between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) and local sources told The Irrawaddy.

Clashes have intensified in the region since December and the Tatmadaw, also known as the Myanmar Army, reportedly launched air strikes in the past three days that killed three mine workers on the spot, said U Lin Lin Oo, a lawmaker representing Tanai Township in the Lower House.

“I didn’t see it, but I heard that three people were killed by air strikes and buried in the mine. But I can confirm that two injured men and three women were sent to Tanai Hospital, and one of the men died of serious injuries,” said U Lin Lin Oo.

The area is under the control of Battalion 14 under KIA Brigade 2, and the Myanmar Army Commander-in-Chief’s Office released a statement on Jan. 29 alleging that “KIA troops continue destructive acts and smuggling of precious natural resources including committing the mine attacks and shooting at security forces who are on duty of regional security and rule of law.”

“Moreover, they attacked the headquarters of a local military unit in Shaduzup Village of Tanai Township with the use of heavy and small arms on 30 December 2017 and 22 January 2018,” claimed the statement.

Of the 3,000 civilians trapped amid ongoing fighting, the Tatmadaw let some 800 children, women and elderly people go, but has barred the others from leaving the village of Nan Kun, U Sein Yone, an amber mine worker, told The Irrawaddy on Monday evening, adding that the workers were short on food.

“We will definitely be hurt if clashes continue. Our lives are in danger. We cried and begged them to let us go. But, they didn’t and it seems that we have to wait to die. Please do something for us,” U Sein Yone told The Irrawaddy.

Among the civilians trapped are Naga, Lisu, Arakanese and Bamar people, he said.

According to U Lin Lin Oo, he reported the case on Jan. 27 to the Kachin State chief minister who then informed the commander of Northern Command Maj-Gen Nyi Nyi Swe through the Kachin State security and border affairs minister.

“The chief minister told me the following day that the commander said he could not allow those trapped to leave the area, as regional clearance operations must be completed. I told the mine workers to try to stay in a safe location for the time being,” said U Lin Lin Oo.

Myanmar Army helicopters dropped leaflets in the first week of June 2017, asking people in the mining areas to leave by June 15 or else be recognized as insurgents supporting the KIA. The drop was followed by military operations, which the army called regional clearance operations. The area was relatively stable under U Thein Sein’s administration and more than 500,000 people were working at gold and amber mines in the area at that time, said U Lin Lin Oo, adding that some lawmakers have reported to Lower House Speaker U Win Myint about the clashes.

In the meantime, fighting between the Tatmadaw and the Kachin Independence Army in Sumprabum Township continues since January 19, causing IDPs to leave their shelters.

Locals and the UN agency UNOCHA said heavy aerial bombing and shelling occurred in Tanai, Sumprabum and Waingmaw townships since last week.

Artillery shells reportedly landed in the Woi Chyoi IDP camp in Waingmaw Township on Jan. 27, the third time since mid December 2017.

Father Vincent Shawng Lawn of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Sumprabum Catholic Church told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the Tatmadaw’s offensives continued in Sumprabum, while the amber mines, some 14 miles west of Tanai still faced artillery firing on Tuesday.

“We don’t know yet about the civilians casualties in Tanai, which happened this morning,” he said.

Additional reporting by Nyein Nyein.