TANAI TOWNSHIP, Kachin State — As a deadline passed for civilians to evacuate gold and amber mines in Kachin State’s Tanai Township, more fighting between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) flared near the mining sites on Friday.
A source from the KIA told DVB that the fighting began this morning at Ja Htu Zup village in Tanai Township, and soldiers from the Kachin ethnic armed group also launched an offensive at Kaung Ra village, near the town of Tanai.
“The fighting started today but I think the KIA troops cannot attack the military for a long time,” he said.
The affected mining areas are controlled by the KIA’s 14th Battalion and a source from the KIA said senior officials from the group’s headquarters in Laiza, Kachin State, ordered that all civilians at the mines be sent to Tanai town in order to avoid possible casualties amid anticipation of renewed hostilities.
“Some civilians don’t have the money to go to the town and they are hiding somewhere in the mining areas. It can be dangerous for them,” said a source.
According to the KIA’s 14th Battalion, the Burmese Army has increased its troop presence in the area.
On 5 June, the military air-dropped leaflets over the mines in Tanai Township, instructing miners there and their families to leave the area by 15 June. Anyone remaining after that deadline would be considered an associate of the outlawed KIA, the leaflets said.
On 4 June, three civilians were injured when an artillery shell of unknown provenance landed on a house in Naung Lone Kaung Yar village, Tanai Township. Fighting in Tanai first flared on 3 June.
The KIA has been expecting a Burma Army offensive in the Tanai mining region, as well as in Hpakant Township, directly to the south, which is the epicentre of the country’s lucrative jade industry.
“[The displaced] civilians are not only residents in villages located near the mining areas but also from the Magwe region, Rakhine [Arakan] and Shan states,” said a source from the KIA, referring to a sizeable migrant worker population in the area. “I think that the situation will not return to a normal condition. The civilians won’t be coming back here.”
According to an amber mining committee formed by KIA, the clashes will negatively impact the revenue streams of both the KIA and civilians whose livelihoods are tied to the mines. Villages around the mines have essentially been emptied of inhabitants in recent days.
“We will defend the mining areas as much as we can,” said a KIA source.
As the 15 June deadline passed, the Burma Army closed off routes to Tanai town, leaving at risk some civilians who did not flee to the town in time. Hundreds of people have taken shelter at churches and monasteries in Tanai town since the leaflets were dropped on 5 June.