Friday, August 18, 2017

Fighting intensifies in Kachin as peace conference approaches

Intense fighting between the Tatmadaw and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) continues with just one week before the start of the 21st-century Panglong Conference, to be held from August 31 to September 4 in Nay Pyi Taw with the hopes of fostering peace between the country’s armed ethnic groups.

Fighting erupted last week in KIA-controlled areas but has intensified this week. Lieutenant Colonel Naw Bu, communication officer for the KIA, told The Myanmar Times yesterday that the Tatmadaw had used military aircraft against the Kachin group on August 23.

Yesterday’s exchange of fire between government forces and the KIA started early in the morning, he said.

“The fighting area is very close to the headquarters of the KIA in Laiza,” he said. “It happened near Lai Hpawng village where a KIA battalion has bases.”

Secondary confirmation of the fighting could not be made with the Tatmadaw. Casualties for both sides also remain unconfirmed.

Fighting started on August 18 when Tatmadaw forces launched artillery attacks against KIA posts near its Laiza headquarters.

“I think the Tatmadaw want to exert pressure on the KIA to sign the nationwide ceasefire agreement and to attend the political dialogue,” Lt Col Naw Bu said.

At the end of July, the KIA hosted a summit of armed ethnic groups in its territory of Mai Ja Yang, with ethnic politicians and civil society organisations, in preparation for the 21st-century Panglong Conference.

Last week, representatives from the Delegation for Political Negotiation, a body representing the United Nationalities Federal Council, met with the government’s peace negotiators, political parties and the armed ethnic groups that have signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement, to review the framework for political dialogue.

Being an influential group inside the United Nationalities Federal Council, the KIA declined to sign last year’s NCA even though the group and another six armed ethnic groups received an invitation from then-president U Thein Sein.

A 17-year ceasefire between the KIA and the government broke down in 2011 when the Tatmadaw launched offensives against KIA positions, causing hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee the area.