Several boats carrying Burmese troops have been seen arriving in the Kachin state town of Bhamo in recent days, adding to fresh deployments of soldiers to the frontline in lieu of an offensive against Kachin rebels.
Fighting has continued into the new year despite orders from President Thein Sein in December for the army not to launch attacks on the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). La Nan, the group’s spokesperson, said that six clashes broke out on Tuesday alone.
Troop presence has “visibly increased”, he continued, claiming that around 600 soldiers had been mobilised some 20 miles from the KIA’s headquarters in Laiza, on the border with China.
The continuing military build up points to an apparent split between the government and army, which is headed by the hawkish Min Aung Hlaing. Both he and Thein Sein were high-ranking figures in the former ruling junta, but since he took office the president has taken a more moderate path in his attempt to appease international critics.
Sceptics of the reform programme point to the ongoing fighting in Kachin state as a signal that the proclaimed intentions of the Thein Sein administration are not shared across the board. As yet little is known of what fallout will result from the army’s apparent refusal to accede to the president’s demands.
After months of stalling, the government has however allowed tentative access to some of the 50,000 refugees displaced by the fighting, a UN convoy arriving in Laiza in December to distribute aid.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, who is currently in Burma on an historic two-day visit, pledged to provide aid to the Kachin refugees, and reportedly offered British assistance in mediating a ceasefire between the two sides.
Several attempts at brokering a truce have occurred since fighting began in June last year, but so far have seen little success. La Nan said the KIA was “ready for political talks when there is a chance” and that fighting would steadily ease as negotiations progress.
“It wouldn’t be right to abandon dialogue just because clashes are ongoing. Our idea is to just focus on the talks, which are important.”
The government has also approached the Chin National Front (CNF) in northwestern Burma for peace talks, although little is known of the discussions. The CNF took up arms after the 1988 uprising, and last year joined the United Nationalities Federal Council, an umbrella group of ethnic armies.