Talks Ongoing Over Police Officers’ Release in Kachin State

By Saw Yan Naing 19 January 2015

Negotiations are ongoing in Kachin State over the detention of three police officers there last week, an incident that is believed to have spawned the latest fighting in the region between government troops and ethnic Kachin armed rebels.

The three officers were detained, along with the Kachin State transportation minister, by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) on Wednesday. The minister, Kaman Du Naw, was released later the same day, but the three police personnel remain in KIA hands.

The following day, fighting between the Burma Army and KIA troops broke out near two villages in Hpakant Township, forcing more than 1,000 people from their homes and shuttering mining operations in the jade-rich region northwest of Myitkyina, the Kachin State capital.

On Sunday, a delegation from the Kachin Peace Creation Group, a Kachin organization mediating peace talks between the KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), and the government, went to Hpakant town to discuss the release of the three detained police officers.

Speaking from Hpakant on Monday, Lamai Gum Ja, a spokesperson for the Kachin Peace Creation Group, said the KIA would release the three detainees later today.

“They [KIA] will release them without condition. They will tell us where to receive the hostages. We are now waiting for their call,” Lamai Gum Ja told The Irrawaddy.

He said that because hostilities continued between the government and the KIA intermittently through the weekend, mining operations Hpakant Township had been suspended.

Sutdu Yup Zau Hkawng, a member of the Kachin Peace Creation Group and head of the Jade Land Company, a leading mining firm in Hpakant, confirmed the mines’ temporary closure.

“Because the fighting continues, mining operations are now being shut down. This normally happens when there is fighting anytime [in Hpakant].”

Local residents in the town of Hpakant said fighting also took place around the village of Lone Kin over the weekend, with an unknown number of casualties on the KIA side.

U Cho, a local resident in Hpakant, said the situation has been further complicated by some angry small-scale miners in the area who have taken to setting fire to oil tanks that belong to Burmese mining companies operating jade mines in the area.

The displaced villagers and, according to Reuters, hundreds of Chinese miners and traders are taking shelter in local churches in Hpakant Township’s Aung Bar Lay and Tagaungs villages. Residents are questioned and searched by local authorities when going out at night.

Lamai Gum Ja said the Kachin Peace Creation Group planned to meet with the displaced populations on Tuesday.

“We have already asked the head of the Burma Army’s unit in Hpakant for permission,” he said.

According to local sources, more than 1,000 residents were affected by the fighting in Kachin State’s Hpakant Township.

If conditions condition to deteriorate, martial law is likely to be declared, U Cho said.

The latest Kachin State violence comes as ethnic leaders and government negotiators continue to target the signing of a nationwide ceasefire accord on Feb. 12. The KIA is one of two major ethnic armed groups that have not signed a bilateral agreement with the government.

Fighting has taken place sporadically since a 17-year ceasefire between the KIA and government broke down in 2011. Prior to last week, the latest violence came in November, when the Burma Army shelled a rebel training academy outside of Myitkyina, killing 22 cadets in the deadliest attack on an ethnic armed group in years.

Responding to media inquiries over the fighting in Kachin, presidential spokesman and Minister of Information Ye Htut claimed that a faction within the KIO that does not want a nationwide ceasefire agreement to be signed next month was behind the three police officers’ detention last week.

“We are led to believe that a group that wants to destroy the peace process and create obstacles on the path to reaching a nationwide ceasefire agreement intentionally committed the move,” Ye Htut wrote on his Facebook page.