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Fierce fighting between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and Burmese government forces in Mansi Township has forced hundreds of Kachin IDPs and villagers to seek sanctuary in Namhkam and at the Burma-China border. No casualties have yet been announced.
Lamai Gum Ja, a mediator in ongoing peace talks, said hostilities broke out on Thursday morning in Lagatyang and Nantlon in Bhamo District as Burma’s military forces were sent in to accompany enumerators conducting a census in the area.
“We have confirmation that clashes occurred on Thursday and also again this [Friday] morning after government troops moved into the area on the pretext of the census,” he told DVB.
He said that by Friday morning, the government troops had spread to the hamlets of Nawnglon and Lwehkawche, forcing villagers at nearby displacement camps to flee in fear to the Burma-China border.
“If this situation persists, it may lead to the collapse of the entire peace process,” he concluded.
Hundreds of other internally displaced persons (IDPs) and villagers reportedly fled to Namkham in northern Shan State.
Sai Hseng Wan, chairman of Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP) in Namhkam, said hundreds of people had evacuated the villages of Manswam, Kaungnawng and Kunchai after heavy shelling in the area, and had taken refuge in Namhkam.
He said the SNDP called an emergency meeting on Thursday afternoon to coordinate relief supplies for the IDPs.
Speaking to DVB on Friday, Presidential spokesman Ye Htut, the government’s deputy information minister, said: “So far, we have not received details of any clashes. However the census operations have been going smoothly. The polls were completed in Shan State, but there are some areas left [for census-taking] in Kachin State.”
Neither the KIA not its political wing, the Kachin Independence Organisation, was available for comment.
On Friday, Free Burma Rangers, which conducts mobile medical operations in the region, reported that more than 1,800 people had been displaced in Thursday and Friday’s fighting.
“On 10 April 2014, the Burma Army launched infantry attacks, supported with mortar fire, against Kachin Independence Army positions in the La Gat Yang and Man Win areas along the Kachin-Shan border southwest of Namhkam town. The attacks lasted from 10:00 until 20:00 hours,” its report read.
Kachinland News also reported the assault, saying that government forces launched multiple offensives on KIA positions near the Burma-China border.
Again, the Burmese government’s policy of ensuring that its national census was conducted, even in rebel-controlled areas, was seen as instrumental in the decision to secure a hold in the Mansi Township villages.
“About 1,000 Burmese army troops arrived last week in Man Win Gyi area in Kachin-Shan border and threatened KIA local officers to allow [the] census in KIA-controlled territories or face a military action,” said Kachinland News.
However, Burma’s state-run media resolved to view the situation through a somewhat rosier lens: “As part of the nationwide census-taking process, the census enumerators are carrying out their tasks with the help of the armed forces in some regions that face some difficulties in Kachin and northern Shan states,” reported the New Light of Myanmar on Thursday.
The Burmese authorities maintain that the national census, the first in over 30 years, has been a success; however, a lack of access to conflict zones and a debacle over the counting of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State has cast doubts over the accuracy of the population count.