Thousands Flee Burma Army Offensive in Kachin State

By Nyein Nyein 28 December 2016

A Burma Army offensive to capture Kachin Independence Army (KIA) outpost Lai Hpawng in Kachin State’s Waingmaw Township forced thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to flee nearby camps on Tuesday evening.

Burma Army troops seized Lai Hpawng and six surrounding smaller outposts after a week of air strikes and artillery fire in a continuation of operations that overran the KIA’s strategic Gideon outpost on Dec.16, according to the Office of the Commander-in-Chief on Tuesday.

Lai Hpawng outpost is located seven miles east of the Myitkyina-Bhamo road and housed KIA Battalion 3 under Brigade 5.

Around 2,600 IDPs fled Zai Awng (Mungga Zup), Maga Yang and Hkau Shau camps Tuesday night and Wednesday when at least five Burma Army shells fell nearby, according to relief workers from the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC).

“The elderly and children left their shelters in the camps and spent the night in the cold jungle after five mortar shells fell near the camp on Tuesday,” Dr. Rev Hkalam Sam Sun, the secretary of the KBC in Myitkyina told The Irrawaddy.

After the fall of Gideon outpost, last week, hundreds of IDPs fled Munglai Hkyet camp to Woi Chyai camp in the KIA stronghold of Laiza.

More than 100,000 civilians have been displaced in Kachin and Shan states since fighting resumed between the Burma Army and the KIA in June 2011, according to the UN.

Civilians, including KBC relief workers, have been killed on suspicion of ethnic armed groups, said Dr. Rev Hkalam Sam Sun, adding that he hopes to release accurate data on deaths and detentions of relief workers soon.

Locals claim that the Burma Army have increased security checkpoints on the main roads of Kachin State, including the capital Myitkyina.

A Joint Strategy Team for IDPs comprised of nine local relief groups said, “the major concerns for the IDPs and the civilians in the region are protection, safety and security. Sustained humanitarian access and immediate response are critical for the IDPs and civilians in the conflict-affected area of northern Shan and Kachin states.”

The team also noted that the arrest of civilians forced to act as porters for ethnic armed groups remained a concern for civilians in Shan and Kachin states.

Recent clashes in northern Shan State between the Burma Army and a joint force of the KIA, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Arakan Army (AA)—dubbed the Northern Alliance—has added to the number of IDPs and civilian deaths and further shaken confidence in the ability of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD-led government to bring peace.

According to locals, two religious leaders in northern Shan State’s Mong Ko have been missing since Dec. 24 after assisting media reporting on the severe damage to the town, including its Church.

The government Peace Commission attempted negotiations with the Northern Alliance last week. Meanwhile, the situation is tense on the ground, however, with both the Burma Army and Northern Alliance troops preparing for further conflict.

Khin Oo Tha contributed to this report.