Intensifying conflict in northern Myanmar has opened new fronts south of the Kachin Independence Army’s stronghold in Laiza and near the town of Pangwa on the China-Myanmar border, several sources said last week.
They said it was the worst stretch of fighting yet since a ceasefire between the government and Kachin Independence Organisation ended in June 2011.
“Day by day the fighting is continuing,” said U Myint Thane, joint general secretary of the National Council of the Union of Burma, based in Thailand. “It has disappointed all of us.”
Speaking from the group’s headquarters in Chiang Mai, KIO central committee member Wawhkyung Sin Wa said he wasn’t sure of the exact scale of the fighting.
“[But] we’ve had reports that there are over 400 [Tatmadaw] troops near Laiza and more than 500 near Pangwa,” he said.
Sources familiar with the conflict say the Tatmadaw has expanded its arsenal in the most recent battles, and is using machine-gun equipped helicopters and heavier artillery against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) troops. Fighting has occurred every day since Thursday, December 13, the sources said.
The Myanmar Times could not confirm these reports with the Tatmadaw. One officer from the Ministry of Defence in Nay Pyi Taw, who asked not to be named, said: “I have no right to say what is taking place in Kachin State, although I know [what is taking place in Kachin State].”
Many aid workers in the region are concerned about the effect this new round of fighting will have on the many camps for people displaced by the conflict that are scattered throughout the area controlled by the KIA. Mr Sin Wa estimated that hundreds of people have been displaced just in the past two weeks of fighting, increasing overcrowding and shortages of supplies in the camps.
“We need more money to feed the IDPs (internally displaced people),” he said. “We only have a handful of assistance.”
A senior official from the Kachin Baptist Convention, who asked not to be named, said he was concerned that people in camps near Pangwa would have to leave if the fighting got any closer.
“The people [in the camps around Pangwa] are afraid because the fighting is happening near their camps,” he said.
While the KIO maintains that its armed wing is acting purely in a defensive role, there have been reports from Hpakant of KIA soldiers attacking police and military instillations. Wawhkyung Sin Wa acknowledged that these reports were accurate but did not want to characterise the attacks as being part of an offensive strategy, “It was a manoeuvre in a military context,” he said.
“There are more government troops coming into Hpakant every day. The government are the ones who broke the ceasefire; we have to defend ourselves.”
Though fighting continues to escalate, Wawhkyung Sin Wa confirmed that the central government had sent a letter to the KIO leadership on Wednesday, December 13 requesting another round of peace talks in the New Year.
He declined to speculate on how the KIO central committee would respond, saying only: “If the government keeps sending troops and making offences, it’s difficult to think about meeting again.”