Looting and robbery has broken out in territory previously controlled by Kachin rebels in Burma’s jade heartland, according to local sources.
In late January, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA)’s Brigade-2 withdrew from Kansee village in Hpakant’s Lawng Hkang town after clashing with Burmese military troops in the area.
The National League for Democracy’s deputy-chairman Tin Soe in Hpakant township said residents from the village fled for their lives when Burmese troops arrived. Many were forced to leave behind their property and valuables, including jade stones collected by small-scale miners.
“Thieves are running amok – some residents when they fled [in a hurry] left their homes open and now there’s looting everywhere,” said Tin Soe.
“They are mostly stealing the [jade] rocks that the owners left home [that they weren’t able] to carry. Because the KIA just pulled out not too long ago, now there’s [very little] governance.”
According to the NLD official during an interview with DVB last month, more than 1,000 people have taken refuge in local monasteries and churches in Lwang Hkang since 13 January.
The KIA’s withdrawal from Kansee village follows a massive dry-season offensive by the Burmese military using heavy artillery and air strikes against rebel positions.
KIA battalion commander Zaw Dwe said the looters are likely to be Burmese soldiers and local villagers.
“Whether in the KIA or the government army, there are individuals with no control – I don’t think any official would tell his troops to go around stealing, robbing or killing. It could be [Burmese] soldiers since now they are stationed next to the village. But also it could just be local villagers,” said Zaw Dwe.
Tin Soe said Burmese army troops were seen seizing weapons and ammunition left by the KIA, but he added that they might not be the looters.
Last week, eight jade mining companies in Lawng Hkang were raided by looters, forcing the Burmese military to halt mining operations in certain areas. Locals are concerned that this might lead to more unemployment in the area – fuelling crime.
Earlier this week, the KIA, accompanied by several fellow United Nationalities Federal Council representatives, met with government negotiators in China’s Ruili township near the border. While no ceasefire was signed, the two sides have agreed to hold further talks this month, as China continues to exert pressure on both sides to end the escalating conflict.