Over Three Weeks, Fighting ‘Almost Daily’ in Kachin State: KIA

By Lawi Weng 26 May 2015

RANGOON — Clashes have been an almost daily occurrence over the last three weeks in northern Burma, where government forces are encroaching on territory held by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), according to the rebel group’s spokesman.

La Nan, the KIA spokesman, said some of the clashes have lasted several hours, with the Burma Army having mobilized up to 1,000 troops for what it claims is a crackdown on illegal logging near the abandoned village of Nam Lim Pa in Kachin State.

“They used the Air Force and ground forces, they have eight battalions on the ground,” he told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

The Burma Army has launched offensives aimed at seizing KIA-held mountain bases at Nam Lim Pa, according to the KIA spokesman, who claimed the government troops’ presence was also linked to plans to build a road in the area.

“Their stated reason was that they are trying to arrest [illegal] loggers and timber trucks and their troops illegally entered our area of control,” La Nan said, adding that the KIA had heard of government plans to set up mining operations at a copper deposit in the area.

La Nan said the latest fighting in conflict-wracked Kachin State began on May 6, and eight battalions under the Burma Army’s Northern Command are engaged in the hostilities. Both sides had suffered casualties, he said, though the exact number of dead and wounded was not yet known.

“Their Air Force dropped a bomb on their troops own and resulted in many casualties. Our troops also have sustained casualties, but we cannot yet release a figure of how many,” he said, adding that the KIA had been forced to retreat from some of its outposts, but had also recovered territory.

“Sometimes their troops chase our troops, but our troops are also pursuing their troops right back. Our troops seized back one mountain post on May 21, which they had seized on May 8,” he said.

Burma Army officers and their KIA counterparts met in Myitkyina last week, when the KIA was informed that government troops had been mobilized to combat illegal logging around Nam Lim Pa. The KIA was told not to block an access road in the area during the crackdown on illegal logging.

“They [Burma Army officers] told us at the meeting that their troops would leave our area of control after they arrest [illegal] timber loggers,” La Nan said. “But this [allowing the Burma Army to operate in Nam Lim Pa] is impossible. This is why our troops attack them when they come.”

La Nan questioned the military’s ostensible presence in the area, pointing out that the nearest logging site to Nam Lim Pa was five miles away, and arguing that the attacks on KIA mountain outposts were not consistent with the actions required to crack down on the illegal timber trade.

Timber smuggling is a major problem in both government-controlled and rebel-held territory, and the KIA said in March that the Burma Army launched an aerial assault of a base it held along a frequent timber trade route near the border with China.

Nam Lim Pa has stood as an abandoned village since fighting between the Burma Army and KIA troops began in the area in 2012. All of the village’s inhabitants fled Nam Lim Pa when fighting broke out and have been living at a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) nearby.

The three weeks of hostilities come even as ethnic leaders prepare to meet in Karen State early next month to discuss a draft nationwide ceasefire agreement. A statement supporting the accord was signed in March by the 16 members—including the KIA—of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT).

The NCCT told a visiting US delegation over the weekend that the ethnic coalition wanted to see an end to hostilities between ethnic armed groups and the government in Kachin and northern Shan states before signing a nationwide ceasefire, according to Nai Hong Sar, who heads the NCCT.

Asked about the KIA’s stance on the matter, La Nan told The Irrawaddy that the Kachin rebel group would sign the nationwide ceasefire if the other members of the NCCT did so, despite a growing trust deficit caused by the continued fighting.

“We are at subzero [in terms of] trust-building with them [Burma Army] as there is ongoing fighting,” La Nan said.