The Burmese army has blocked a trade route close to the border with China in what appears to be part of a wider attempt to pressure a Kachin ethnic army based nearby.
It comes days after an order was sent out by the junta to the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) to close all but three of its offices in the northern Burmese state. The group has refused to transform its armed wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), into a government-backed border militia after months of pressure from the ruling generals.
A source close to the KIO said that the road leading from the Lajaryang crossing six miles north of Laiza, where the KIO has its headquarters, was blocked yesterday morning. The move puts a halt to trade from China to the principle Kachin towns of Bhamo and Myitkyina, as well as Laiza.
“Mainly, people are allowed to cross back into China but not the other way around,” said the source, adding that Burmese goods were banned from entering China.
It also follows the death of two Burmese army troops, who were killed on 22 November after stepping on a landmine allegedly laid by the KIA.
Big-Gen Gwan Maw, deputy commander in chief of the KIA, said they were yet to confirm casualties. “We know there was a mine explosion but not the details on how many people were hit or how that happened,” he said.
“It happened in the area around our old headquarters, north of the Parchaung Hills. The route is not used often and we assumed the mine was laid for security purposes by our frontline troops, but we didn’t have time to go and check as it’s in the jungle.”
The KIO moved its headquarters to Laiza in 1994 after the group agreed a ceasefire deal with the Burmese junta, but tensions have risen following its refusal to transform into a Border Guard Force. The KIO are one of 17 ceasefire groups in Burma who have been ordered to transform, although the majority have refused.
Gwan Maw said the group, which claims to have some 10,000 active troops, is to shut down the battalion-level liaison offices by the end of this month. He added that the KIO agreed with the demands, given that these offices had little use for the group now.