Fighting pauses as refugees flood China

Reports from Burma’s north suggest that days of heavy fighting between Burmese troops and Kachin insurgents close to the China border that forced nearly 2000 refugees into China has died down.

The destruction of a sizeable munitions stock belonging to the Burmese army may have triggered the hiatus as both sides regroup in Kachin state’s Bhamo district, where fighting has raged since Thursday last week.

The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) on Monday told its troops to prepare for a full-scale war against the Burmese army following heavy shelling of bases over the weekend, and evidence that Burmese troops had tortured and executed a KIA captive.

La Nan, joint-secretary of the KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), told DVB that the artillery attack on the munitions cache had caused heavy firepower damage and forced the Burmese to scatter, with one soldier killed.

He added however that it was likely to cause only a brief hiatus in fighting as they await reinforcements.

“We are seeing an increase in their military activity not only around the Bonsan mountain area but alongside of the roads connecting Bhamo and Myitkyina, with reinforcements coming from Aung Pan [in southern Shan state] and Mandalay. So we assume the gunfire dying down is only temporary.”

Schools in Bhamo town, which lies around 20km from the Chian border, were forced to close when truckloads of Burmese troops arrived on Monday, reportedly before being sent north to Laiza where the headquarters of the KIA is.

A local man in Bhamo said that senior army officials were also attempting to negotiate with KIA officials in Bhamo. He added that prisoners in the town’s jail were being sent to the frontline, possibly for use as army porters.

The fighting has also caused the displacement of civilians living in villages between Bhamo and Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state. Around 500 people have fled to Laiza, where the KIO has organised food and accommodation.

China is yet to make a public announcement on the fighting, which comes only three weeks after Burmese President Thein Sein’s visit to Beijing, where he met with his Chinese counterpart and reportedly discussed border stability.

Up to 37,000 refugees fled into China following fighting in August 2009, prompting an uncharacteristically sharp rebuke from Beijing, which has developed a close relationship with the Burmese government in recent years.

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