On Monday fighting broke out between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Burmese army forces, continuing for two full days.
Fierce gun battles around the mining hub of Hpakant are the latest violent episodes in what is now a four year civil war in Burma’s north. Aggressions between the two sides have not abated despite government and rebel claims of recent advancements in the brokering of a nationwide ceasefire.
DVB spoke with the Kachin Independence Army’s 2nd Brigade, 6th Battalion Command Maj. Tang Hseng about this most recent outbreak.
Q: We understand that there has been renewed fighting between the KIA and the Burmese army. How did it start?
A: The fighting broke out as the Burmese army carried out an unprovoked attack on our outposts at the frontier [of our territories]. The fighting lasted for three days, from 15 June until around 5pm on 17 June. Right now, the situation is quiet.
Q: Where did the fighting take place?
A: In an area about 10 miles from Lawng Hkang (Lonkhin). The fighting began at around 1.45pm on 15 June and was continuing as of 5pm on 17 June. The fights took place in about eight different spots around our 6th Battalion area and at four spots along the Hpakant-Mogaung road.
Q: What is the casualty report?
A: We expect casualties on both sides as it was rather fierce fighting. We counted that about three of our men were injured. We heard that the Burmese army also sustained some casualties, but can not confirm that.
Q: Which government units were involved in the fight?
A: Around 400 troops from the Burmese army’s 422nd, 424th, 425th and 418th Light Infantry Battalions were involved.
Q: There had been no violent conflict in Hpakant for some time prior to the recent clashes. What do you think caused the fighting this time?
A: There had been no clashes in the area since April this year. We have been at ease, and trying to reduce fighting according to a directive from the KIA headquarters. But the Burmese army tried to take us by surprise using the same old pretext of ‘combing the region’, even when there is no criminal activity in this area. [Hpakant] has been a peaceful area until they arrived to ‘comb the region’. Around 100 local villagers, including children, have fled into our territory.
Q: Which villages are they from? When did they flee their homes?
A: The villagers were from Sengja, Sudjai and Aunleng villages, and arrived at our posts in the afternoon of 17 June. We provided them shelter in safe locations. When the coast is clear, we plan to transport them to the IDP [Internally Displaced People] camp in Lawng Hkang.
Q: Is the situation back to normal?
A: There was no fighting this morning [18 June] but we can’t say it’s over. Both sides are still preparing for further combat. The Burmese army troops are currently camped out in the village of Aunleng. The villages of Aungleng, Sudjai and Sengja fall under KIA territory, and are now serving as a buffer between the Burmese army and our positions. Also, as the army came abruptly, the villagers were unable to pack up and take their belongings when they fled.
Q: Was the Joint Conflict Negotiation Committee of the government and KIA informed about the fighting?
A: We have informed them. Although we abide by the [ceasefire code], the Burmese army don’t, which is why the fighting is continuing.
Q: The Burmese police allege that the KIA launched grenade attacks on police guard posts in Hpakant yesterday. What is your response to this allegation?
A: There is no evidence that the KIA committed those attacks. It could be anyone doing it for various reasons – maybe it was a group who wanted to fuel the conflict, or disgruntled people who were disappointed by the KIA standing down from the conflict. There are also those who believe hostility will bring advantages to unofficial scavengers in the jade mines, because official mining companies are forced to stop their operations amid fighting. There are thousands of tons of ordnance in Hpakant – acquiring a grenade is not a tough mission for anyone.
Q: Is there anything you would like to add?
A: Only to say that the recent fighting broke out because the Burmese army violated the ceasefire code.