Villagers Flee as Govt Troops Clash with KIA in Hpakant

By Kyaw Kha 7 October 2015

RANGOON — Fighting broke out in Kachin State’s Hpakant Township on Wednesday between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army, one of several armed groups that elected not to sign a long-awaited ceasefire deal with Naypyidaw.

The fighting began at 7 am Wednesday and continued into the afternoon, with the Burma Army’s Infantry Battalion No. 336 facing off against Kachin Independence Army (KIA) Battalion 6, under Brigade 2, according to KIA major Tang Seng.

“The engagement started as government troops crossed into our territory,” Tang Seng told The Irrawaddy.

“They had deployed in the area since last night. Since then, we told them not to cross the territory to avoid clashes. But they started the attack with 60 mm and 120 mm artillery.”

Tang Seng said casualties were not yet known but one artillery explosion sent villagers fleeing for safety. About 30 villagers sought out KIA troops to request shelter, the major said.

“We heard the gunfire,” Thet Zaw Oo, a police officer in downtown Hpakant told The Irrawaddy. “But it is not in our area, it is in Lone Kin [village].”

Some villagers sought shelter in downtown Hpakant on Wednesday, according to Da Chi La Seng, a member of the National League for Democracy (NLD) and a state candidate for the Hpakant constituency.

“Fighting occurred at two places: near Nam San Chaung Phyar village and Jayayang [or, Ja Ya Yang] village,” Da Chi La Seng said, “Mostly plantation workers near those villages fled.”

In June and July, fighting between government troops and the KIA in the jade-rich northern township caused scores of villagers to flee their homes.

Tang Seng said the KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization, had ordered that engagements with the Burma Army be avoided during the election period. However, Wednesday’s fighting was unavoidable, he said.

“Our headquarters ordered us not to go into the villages or the town [and] to avoid any confrontation, as the election is close. If something happened [that would affect] the election, we don’t want to be blamed, especially by the international community. So we follow our orders,” he said.

Further south, in Shan State, government forces also clashed with the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) near the armed group’s headquarters in Mong Hsu Township on Tuesday.

The SSA-N and the KIA are among several major ethnic armed groups that have elected not to accede to a nationwide ceasefire agreement that government negotiators say will be concluded on Oct. 15.