Burmese troops pounded Kachin Independence Army bases over the weekend with heavy artillery, forcing the ethnic insurgent group to close its last liaison office in the state capital, Myitkyinya.
The fighting deals a blow to any hopes of salvaging a 15-year truce between the two sides that begun to unravel following the KIA’s refusal last year to become a Border Guard Force.
Although fighting on 9 June ended after both sides agreed to a hostage swap, the Burmese army reportedly reneged on a pledge to withdraw its troops from Kachin territory in Bhamo district and instead demanded that KIA troops positioned on a nearby hill close to their base pull out.
That resulted in a burst of heavy artillery fire against the KIA on Saturday afternoon. Kachin officials told DVB yesterday that the closure of its final liaison office signalled the official end to diplomatic communication with the government. Liaison officials arrived back at their headquarters in Laiza around midnight on Saturday.
La Nan, a central committee member of the KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), told DVB that it had fought back, and that further retaliation was not out of the question but would depend on the intensity of the Burmese assault.
“They are firing artillery at us from about five or six miles away and shells are landing around our base, so we also had to use heavy weapons in response,” he said. “We learnt that they have suffered heavy casualties but we can’t give any details.”
It marks the latest in a string of clashes over the past week in Kachin state that have prompted observers to speculate that outright war in the border regions may be imminent. The Burmese army also appears to be intensifying its presence close to other insurgent groups, such as the Shan State Army (SSA), that have shunned the Border Guard Force proposals.
The Kachin fighting is likely to concern China, with the Bhamo base only around 20 miles from its border with Burma. China has warned Burma that border stability must be made a priority, with trade along the frontier increasing.