Three Burmese soldiers died and 11 more were injured as heavy fighting erupted in northern Burma yesterday, the latest sign that a 17-year ceasefire between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the government may be on the verge of collapse.
The fight reportedly broke out after the KIA refused to return a Burmese army captain and a private captured in KIA territory on 8 June on suspicion of spying. Two Burmese battalions launched an assault on the Kachin army’s Battalion 15 base in Momauk township. Fighting began in the morning and lasted around three hours.
After lengthy negotiations, however, the two were released yesterday evening.
James Lundau, spokesperson of the KIA, told DVB that two Kachin troops were also injured. But he cast aside suggestions that it marked the final nail in the coffin for relations with the Burmese government, which have become increasingly tense since the KIA’s refusal last year to become a Border Guard Force.
“I think this problem can be solved through talks,” he said. “I don’t think the attack was ordered by Naypyidaw but instead by regional commanders. They [Burmese government] cannot control their frontline soldiers.”
It marks the latest in a recent series of clashes in Kachin state that have prompted observers to speculate that outright war in the border regions may be imminent. The Burmese army appears to be intensifying its presence close to other insurgent groups like the Shan State Army (SSA) that have shunned the Border Guard Force proposals.
Troops launched an assault on the SSA’s 7-Mile base in central Shan state on 3 June that SSA soldiers claimed included the use of chemical weapons. A week earlier the KIA and Burmese army exchanged gunshots and mortar fire near to the Kachin state town of Mansi.
It followed warnings from Kachin commanders that Burmese troops must withdraw from their territory by 25 May or risk fighting.
James Lundau said however that he believes the government wanted to maintain the ceasefire. “President Thein Sein said he wants to keep the door open to dialogue and we agree with him – we’ll just have to negotiate with high-ranking officials.”
Additional reporting by Francis Wade