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Several train packed full of Burmese army troops and weaponry have arrived in Myitkyina in recent days, according to residents who fear an outbreak of fighting close to the Kachin state capital.
“A freight train arrived in town the other evening and it turned out it was fully loaded with wooden and metal creates containing heavy weapons ammunition and small firearms – railway [department] workers had to unload them off the train,” said one man.
“Yesterday, another train arrived and it was completely packed with soldiers.”
The ammunition has reportedly been shipped off in the direction of the Northern Regional Military Command (NRMC) headquarters in Myitkyina. The NRMC has been tasked with deploying troops to fight the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in recent weeks, and clashes have forced thousands to flee their homes.
The Burmese government is currently engaged in talks with the insurgent group to rejuvenate a 17-year ceasefire that ended in early June, when heavy fighting broke out in the Bhamo district, close to the Chinese border and around 150km south of Myitkyina.
Former communications minister Thein Zaw, who is now a parliamentary representative for Myitkyina, had been negotiating on behalf of the government, but the arrival of extra troops has heightened tension in the town.
“The local population are concerned that the [government] is mobilising troops at the same time they are negotiating for peace,” the Myitkyina resident said. “Some [locals] are now selling their livestock and stocking up on food. They are worried that there will be fighting, explosions and artillery shelling in the town.”
According to the KIA, Thein Zaw delivered a message claiming the Burmese army had ordered troops not to launch attacks from 18 June onwards unless attacked first. The latest deployment however suggests that order is not watertight.
The Kachin News Group, which has been keeping a close eye on developments in northern Burma, alleged over the weekend that Burmese and Chinese officials met on 23 June in the Chinese town of Mansi to thrash out a battle plan for taking Laiza, the headquarters of the KIA.
China has substantial economic interests in areas close to KIA territory, particularly with regards to hydropower. Fighting has erupted close to several lucrative dam projects that have been financed by Beijing.