The Myanmar Army (Tatmadaw) said yesterday that it would forcibly return Kachin IDPs from Awng Lawt who have fled to Tanai town. The army announced that Awng Lawt, which is near the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA)’s Brigade 2, was now under the Tatmadaw’s control, according to local sources.
Tatmadaw personnel drove around Tanai announcing that the army would “help” IDPs and assist their return to Awng Lawt village. In the announcement, the Tatmadaw claimed the KIA had burned down some villagers’ homes.
“We will not allow an IDP camp for villagers who fled fighting in Awng Lawt village to open in the town. You must all go back and stay in your village. We announce that we will offer all necessary assistance to enable you to resettle in your village,” the army announced in Tanai.
The Tatmadaw said it had not destroyed any private property in the village. It said the KIA had withdrawn from its base near Awng Lawt. All property was intact except for some homes that had been burned down by the KIA as it was withdrawing from the village, the army said in its announcement.
The KIA denied the accusation that it had burned homes.
KIA spokesperson Colonel Naw Bu said the KIA would never destroy the homes of its own people. He accused the Tatmadaw of lying.
“What they’re saying is untrue. It is the KIA’s policy not to destroy public property,” Col Naw Bu said.
In its announcement, the Tatmadaw said township authorities and religious and community leaders would help the IDPs get back to their village, and that the army would even escort them.
It ordered residents of Tanai who were sheltering IDPs from Awng Lawt village to inform the township authorities in order to facilitate their return.
There are two different groups of IDPs from Awng Lawt village. A group of about 200 were stranded in Tanai while attending a religious festival there after the Tatmadaw launched an offensive on April 11. Another group of about 2,000 IDPs were hiding in an area of jungle controlled by KIA Brigade 2 in the Hukawng Valley.
The KIA’s Col Naw Bu said both the KIA and the Tatmadaw had deployed troops on the road from Tanai to Awng Lawt village. The situation there was still unstable, with clashes reported daily, including an intense exchange on Wednesday.
The KIA spokesman said it was not yet safe for IDPs to return to Awng Lawt village. “If they come back, the situation is not safe for them, as it is a war zone. There is no guarantee that local people will be safe. Even in Awng Lawt itself, the situation is not stable yet. Local people will face many problems if they come back,” Col Naw Bu said.
KIA Brigade 2 has four battalions based in the Hukawng Valley. Awng Lawt village had been its headquarters until it was captured in a Tatmadaw offensive on April 11 involving air and ground forces, as well as long-range shelling. The KIA was forced to abandon the headquarters as it was unable to repel the attack, according to a KIA source.
The Tatmadaw also shelled the KIA’s main headquarters in Laiza. At least two civilians were killed and another five wounded in its shelling of the Laiza and Tanai areas.
Earlier in the month the KIA announced it was launching a guerilla and landmine offensive against areas in Tanai that are home to illegal mining operations.
Some 1,200 IDPs still trapped in jungle areas by fighting are receiving help from some Kachin Christian groups and community leaders. There are believed to be other groups of IDPs hiding in the jungle, but the religious groups have not been able to assist them yet.
More than 100,000 Kachin remain displaced from their homes after a 17-year ceasefire between the central government and the KIA collapsed in 2011.
Peace talks have been held numerous times between the two armed groups. The Myanmar Army has repeatedly asked the KIA to withdraw from some of its bases in areas rich in amber, jade and gold mining, as well as in an area that falls along China’s One Belt One Road initiative. The KIA has refused to withdraw, and cites ongoing human rights abuses carried out by the Myanmar Army.