Six Burma Army soldiers were killed by their own forces in an incident early Saturday morning in Hpakant Township, Kachin State, according to local sources.
The shooting took place at a base in Nam Yah village—about 20 miles east of Hpakant town—an area where the government troops are stationed in close proximity to forces of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
According to locals, artillery shells were fired when Burma Army soldiers moving near the encampment at night were mistaken for KIA troops.
Four men died on the spot and two died later from their injuries, according to reports. Two others were seriously injured, locals said, reporting that the sound of shelling followed by gunfire was heard at about 4 am Saturday.
“One artillery shell exploded about a mile away from the government soldiers, while the other exploded within their camp and caused six to die,” said Tin Soe, the township vice chairman of the National League for Democracy in Hpakant.
“It happened in the center of Nam Yah village where the government troops are deployed in a monastery, but luckily the villagers did not get hurt.”
After the incident, the army troops apparently reported to their commanders that they had engaged with the KIA, but ethnic sources said the incident was purely “friendly fire.”
La Mai Gum Ja, spokesman for the Kachin Peace Creation Group, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the KIA’s Battalion No. 6 was posted about 4 miles away from where the deaths took place, but was not involved in the incident.
La Mai Gum Ja said following the incident he was contacted by the general staff of the Burma Army’s Northern Command, and relayed the message from a local KIA commander that no fire was exchanged.
“The KIA central headquarters [in Laiza] has ordered not to engage in any battle while its leaders are in talks with the government for peace in the region. The local troops follow the order as they would be punished to death if they don’t,” said La Mai Gum Ja.
There are thought to be about 10 battalions of government troops in Hpakant Township, but it is unclear which was involved in the friendly fire incident. Northern Command officials could not be reached to confirm the report.
Locals say there has been no fighting in the area since peace talks between the KIA and the government resumed last year, although continued clashes have been reported elsewhere in Kachin State.
La Mai Gum Ja said the government and KIA troops posted in Hpakant had not shown signs of fighting again recently. “They stay opposite to each other, just separated by the Uru stream, without gunfire,” he said.
Hpakant is famous for producing jade, and locals suspect that the Burma Army presence in the area is related to the exploitation of the priceless mineral.