Gunfire puts Kachin truce on tenterhooks

A brief fire fight between Burmese troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in northern Burma late last week may be the final nail in the coffin for a 17-year ceasefire with the government, as tensions appear to be spiralling.

Both sides exchanged gunshots and mortar fire near to the Kachin state town of Mansi, a KIA stronghold, on 27 May. It follows warnings from Kachin commanders that Burmese troops must withdraw from their territory by 25 May or risk fighting.

Lahpai Nawdin, editor of Thailand-based Kachin News Group, said that the Burmese army’s refusal to pull out now meant that “fights may break out any time under any circumstances”.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a military analyst based on Burma’s border with China, said that although both sides have now retreated from the flashpoint, the Burmese army is reportedly reinforcing its troops.

The two sides are also involved in a face-off close to Kachin capital Myitkyina, although no gun fire has yet been heard. Last week the KIA put its troops on high alert as Burmese government plans to build a road close to its territory threatened further fighting.

The KIA’s refusal early last year to bow to demands to become a government-backed Border Guard Force triggered a nosedive in relations, and threatens heavy conflict in the country’s north.

The latest incident will do little to embolden China’s confidence in the Burmese government, following reports last week that Beijing demanded answers from President Thein Sein as to how he would ensure stability along their restive shared border.

The issue of the Border Guard Force, which would require ceasefire groups to reduce troop numbers and assimilate themselves into the Burmese army, has also sparked fighting in the country’s east. Burmese troops this month carried out an assault on the Shan State Army-North, whose 15-year ceasefire with the government has formally ended.

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