Confusion over Kachin conflict orders

The Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) has claimed that the Burmese army’s senior command had told troops not to launch attacks on bases in Kachin state from 18 June onwards, an order that was seemingly ignored.

Former communications minister Thein Zaw, who is now a parliamentary representative in the Kachin capital of Myitkyina, has been negotiating on behalf of the government since fighting between the two sides began on 9 June. It was Thein Zaw who reportedly told the KIO, the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), about the order.

“He sent us a letter claiming the Burmese army had ordered its troops to stop fighting as of 8pm on 18 June if we don’t open fire at them first,” said La Nang, KIO spokesperson. Despite the order, fighting continues today.

There have been doubts in recent weeks about how much authority the central government has over its frontline forces. The United Wa State Army (UWSA) said this week that President Thein Sein should exercise “more control” over troops, while shortly after the first wave of fighting began, KIA spokesperson James Lundau said he did not believe the orders to attack were coming from Naypyidaw.

Continued fighting in Burma’s northern and eastern border regions stems from the refusal of various ethnic armies to become government-controlled Border Guard Forces.

Since 9 June, clashes in Kachin state have spread, and the KIA has now mobilised all five of its brigades. The fighting has forced upwards of 10,000 to flee their homes.

Negotiations between both sides at the KIA headquarters in Laiza on 17 June were fruitless, with the KIA rejecting government proposals to rekindle the ceasefire as insincere. The following day, heavy fighting broke out in Shwebu township. One woman was killed in the crossfire.

State-run newspapers on the same day carried an article claiming the Burmese army “inevitably [had to] counterattack the KIA for their threats and armed attacks”. The KIA however maintains that it is fighting a defensive battle.

Fighting has also resurfaced in Shan state, with six battles between the Burmese army and Shan State Army occurring on 17 June alone.

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