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Four days of heavy shelling by Burmese troops against Kachin forces in the country’s northeast has prompted the rebel group to relocate non-combatants to safer areas and send all its soldiers to the frontline.
The spokesperson of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), La Nan, said the group will “utilise guerrilla warfare tactics” in a bid to fend off the Burmese assault, which has seen around 1000 troops deployed to KIA territory in northern Shan state.
Two KIA bases have been vacated since the assault began on Friday in Muse, Kutkai and Man Tong townships.
“It’s quite intense fighting. The [Burmese army’s] forces are exceeding 1000 troops and they are still reinforcing,” said La Nan.
The current fighting marks some of the heaviest seen since clashes broke out between two sides in June, triggered largely the KIA’s refusal to accede to demands to become a government-controlled Border Guard Force. The government is also keen to gain control of areas close to KIA territory that host lucrative hydropower projects.
The fighting has affected areas of northern Shan state and southern and central Kachin state where the KIA has a strong presence. Until June the opposition group had maintained a 17-year ceasefire with the central government.
The Kachin Women’s Association Thailand reported yesterday that it has so far documented 37 cases of rape in areas of Kachin state where government troops are active. The group said it had counted 18 by the end of June, and feared the phenomenon, long derided by human rights groups as a “weapon of war” of the Burmese army, was escalating.
According to the KIA, the current offensive is being directly supervised by Lieutenant General Soe Win, the Burmese military’s second-ranking official, and the Northeastern Regional Military Command. It pre-empted the army’s quarterly meeting in Naypyidaw on Saturday last week.
Prior to the first wave of attacks on Friday, the KIA’s Brigade 4 raided a police station in the Shan state town of Muse. It has also launched attacks on Burmese outposts in Lweje town and Singlun village tract in eastern Kachin state, while battles continue in Dawphonyan sub-township.
“Although [the government] is talking about political dialogue, the military can use military means to solve the problems,” said La Nan. “Their aim is to conquer everything. I think the result of the quarterly meeting will be a war cry.”
The political wing of the KIA, the Kachin Independence Organisation, recently sent a letter to UN chief Ban Ki-moon urging the body to mediate in the conflicts unfolding inBurma’s border region.
The Burmese army is also battling opposition forces in Karen state and southern Shan state.