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The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) handed over three policemen, who had been captured by its troops last week, to local authorities in Hpakant on Monday.
The policemen were given over to Hpakant Township officials along with their personal effects, other than firearms, said Lamai Gum Ja of the Peace Creation Group (PCG), a team of mediators in the ceasefire talks between the armed group and the government. The PCG made the journey to the area to collect the policemen.
“The three were handed over to officials and the police at around 6:15pm, along with all of their belongings – including cash, phones and jewellery, but not their guns,” Lamai Gum Ja told DVB. He added that the group pledged to hand over the firearms to government peace negotiators at a meeting in the near future.
The trio were taken captive by the KIA as they accompanied the Kachin State Transport Minister Kamann Du Naw who was inspecting road construction near Hpakant, a jade-mining town in central Kachin State, on 14 January. The minister was released that same day.
Fierce fighting broke out in Hpakant between the Burmese army and the KIA last week following the incident, displacing large numbers of local villagers.
The PCG team met with local community leaders at a church in the township on 20 January. They were told of the deaths of a number of locals from the village of Lawng Hkang due to landmines, and that many residents were stranded in Kansee village as transportation routes were impassable due to fighting.
Lamai Gum Ja said the team were unable to travel to these villages, as the local Burmese army commander said it would be impossible to guarantee their safety if they did.
Dashi La Hseng, the National League for Democracy chairperson in Hpakant, said that around 3,000 locals from villages, including Tang Gaung, Kanseekhaw and Aungbarlay, are taking shelter at the church in Kanseekhaw, but that aid workers and sympathisers are unable to reach them to provide assistance due to heavy military presence along the road.
A local in Hpakant told DVB that a government military convoy was hit on Monday by a mine explosion in Lawng Hkang that left one villager killed and two injured. He said there was no gunfire heard around Hpakant on Tuesday, but the KIA had ordered a halt to all mining operations at the Hpakant jade mines, affecting the livelihoods of small-time miners who survive on daily earnings.
There has been a surge of violence in the conflict-prone region of Kachin and northern Shan State in recent days. A grenade attack on a local police station in Hpakant saw four people injured on 15 January. State media has blamed the KIA for the attack.
In another incident, police in the Chinese border town of Muse are investigating the brutal murder of two female teachers, whose bodies were discovered on Tuesday.