Gunfire exchanged in Kachin state

Fighting erupted today between Kachin troops and the Burmese army in what one military analyst described as a rare show of hostility in the country’s far-northern state.

A Burmese battalion entered territory belonging to the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) yesterday under the pretext of seeking and destroying illicit narcotics, said Aung Kyaw Zaw, an analyst based on the China-Burma border.

“The [KIA troops] told them to wait until they got clearance from [Kachin army] authorities,” he said.

“Despite that, the army forcibly entered the area this morning and the KIA troops first fired a warning shot. Then they had to shoot straight at the Burmese army troops when they came under fire. An RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] fired by KIA troops hit the army commander’s vehicle.”

The Kachin News Group reported last week that the Burmese army’s Northern Regional Command had warned the KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), to stop its drug eradication programme in areas belonging to another Kachin army, the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K).

The NDA-K last year transformed into a Border Guard Force, thus bringing it under the control of the Burmese army. The regime in the past has been accused of using proxies such as the NDA-K to maintain some control over Burma’s drugs market.

Opium production is widespread in northern and eastern Burma. A UN report in December last year said that the acreage used for poppy cultivation had increased in recent years, despite the government boasting of its success in curtailing the country’s output.

The report added that that production had increased across Southeast Asia, rising from $US119 million in 2009 to $US219 million last year.

Relations between the Burmese army and the KIA have been tense since the latter’s refusal to become a Border Guard Force. A new military command zone was last month designated for Tanaing, the home of the KIA, while sporadic outbursts of fighting have occured close to KIA territory in recent months.

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