Two civilians die, thousands trapped in Myanmar conflict

More than 2,000 trapped as fighting escalates between military forces and the Kachin Independence Army
Two civilians die, thousands trapped in Myanmar conflict

Armed rebels belonging to the Kachin Independence Army move toward the front line near Laiza in Kachin State in this 2016 file picture. (Photo by Hkun Lat/AFP)

Two civilians were killed, at least four were injured and more than 2,000 people remain trapped as fighting between Myanmar's military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) intensified in Myanmar.

Reverend Je Di, pastor of the Kachin Baptist Church in Tanai, Kachin State, said religious and community leaders were discussing how to help people trapped in the conflict zone.

"We are closely monitoring the situation of trapped civilians," Je Di told ucanews.com.

Bum Hkrang, a humanitarian worker from Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, said there was concern over the protection and safety of civilians caught in the intense fighting, especially in Tanai.

"This year fighting seems more intense, so we have much concern for the civilians' safety, especially those who remain trapped in the conflict area," he said.

Hundreds of villagers and thousands of mine workers left the area seven months ago after the military warned of "clearance operations" against armed rebels.

More than 1,000 internally displaced persons have taken refuge at Catholic and Baptist churches in Tanai township since June 2017.

The region's gold and amber mines, where an estimated 100,000 people work, are concentrated near Tanai.

Most of the workers are Buddhists from central Myanmar, according to local sources.

Aerial bombing and heavy artillery mortar shelling took place in the amber mining area of Tanai from Jan. 25-27.

Two civilians were killed and at least four injured, according to the Joint Strategy Team (JST), an alliance of nine humanitarian groups in Kachin and northern Shan State.

The JST reported on Jan. 28 that fighting had intensified recently in Tanai, Suprabum and Wai Maw townships in Kachin, resulting in multiple civilian casualties, displacement and mass panic.

On Jan. 27 starting from 7 pm, multiple rounds of heavy artillery were shelled towards Laiza, the headquarters of the KIA. Some landed in Mung Lai Hkyet, which is part of Woi Chyai refugee camp.

Myanmar's military said on Jan. 28 that it had been engaged in 10 clashes with Kachin insurgents and it was carrying out clearance operations to prevent illegal extractions of natural resources.

Tsa Ji, general secretary of the Kachin Development Networking Group, a civil society organization that monitors development projects in Kachin State, believes the latest military offensive was motivated by Naypyitaw's policy of controlling natural resources.

"The situation has worsened from last year as civilians were killed and people are suffering from the results of conflict," he said.

Myanmar's civilian government faces the daunting task of managing the country's resources, which includes dealing with firms that have close ties with the military.

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The government has pledged to bring an end to the decades-long civil wars in the country but renewed clashes have undermined peace initiatives. The ongoing fighting has also raised questions about how much influence State Counseler Aung San Suu Kyi has over the military.

Kachin State is 90 percent Christian and has been beset by sporadic fighting for several decades. More than 100,000 people remain displaced in Kachin and Shan states since fighting restarted on June 9, 2011.

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