Fighting erupts again in Kachin state

Military accused of using aid convoys to entrench troop positions

John Zaw, Mandalay, Myanmar

November 18, 2013

More than 2,000 villagers in Kachin state have fled their homes after fighting erupted between government forces and armed ethnic soldiers, according to an aid worker in the area.

The villagers arrived in Man Gau village on Sunday after several days’ journey, while 200 other elderly villagers hid in the jungle, said Hkawn Rein of the Karuna Banmaw Social Service.

Renewed fighting comes just over a week after the Myanmar government held what it called “historic” peace talks with a coalition of armed ethnic groups including the Kachin Independence Organization working to establish a nationwide ceasefire.

“More than 2,000 refugees arrived in Man Gau vililage [on Sunday] together with three aid workers after journeying on foot for more than two days,” Hkawn Rein said.

No civilian casualities have been reported so far, Hkawn Rein said, adding that Karuna, the United Nations and NGOs are meeting to arrange shelter for the refugees in Mang Win Gyi village as well as food and non-food items.

Hkawn Rein and other aid workers have accused the Myanmar military of using the delivery of relief aid to displaced Kachin villagers as an excuse to mobilize troops further into the ethnic state.

“This is well planned by the military to create new camps in villages visited by aid convoys,” he said.

Dau Kha, a spokesman for the Kachin Independence Organization confirmed the fighting and said it continued on Monday. He further said he had reported the situation to the government’s peace committee.

“While the government and ethnic groups are trying to solve the conflict through political means, the military is undermining these actions,” Dau Kha said.

Mary Tawn, co-founder of Wunpawng Ninghtwe, a Kachin relief group based in the town of Mai Ja Yang, said the fighting calls into question the government and the military’s sincerity in wanting to end the violence in Kachin state.

“How can we trust the government to build peace when military attacks continue?” she said.

In an opinion piece for Dictator Watch on November 11, Roland Watson characterized the military’s stake in peace talks as less about dialogue and more about consolidating power.

“What we are really seeing in Burma is continued civil war, along with a political dialogue, which is to be followed by a national ceasefire, and then more dialogue,” Watson wrote.

“The country is now undergoing a complex negotiation, in which the different sides have their own respective goals. Indeed, the negotiation is not about peace at all. Rather, it is about power.”