Intense fighting between the Burmese military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has reportedly killed at least four government soldiers this week, Kachin rebel sources say, with hostilities flaring on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The fighting has been on and off this week in northern Shan State, where the KIA’s Brigade 4 is based. KIA Battalion 36, which is under the Brigade 4 command, claimed there were no causalities on the Kachin side, but that the battalion had recovered the bodies of four government soldiers on Tuesday.
James Lum Dau, the deputy chief of foreign affairs for the KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that fighting in northern Shan State had intensified in recent days, not only between government troops and the KIA, but also with other ethnic armed groups such as the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and a Kokang group known as the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).
“The fighting intensified these days and it breaks out almost every day,” Lum Dau said. “Sometimes they [government troops] fight with only one group [the KIA], but sometimes many groups get involved.
“The KIA, TNLA and Kokang are colleagues. We are like brothers. Sometimes, we fight together,” he added.
Lum Dau warned that there would be no nationwide ceasefire agreement so long as the government failed to show a genuine desire for peace on the frontlines of the conflict in Burma’s north, where the Burmese Army has attacked ethnic minorities while simultaneously negotiating peace proposals in Rangoon, Naypyidaw and elsewhere.
“Peace will come for sure only when the government is really committed to a peacemaking program,” he said. “So long as the government is insincere in the peace process, there will be no peace.”
Mai Aie Kyaw, a spokesperson for the TNLA, confirmed this week’s fighting in northern Shan State.
In mid-June, hundreds of ethnic Palaung, who are also known as Ta’ang, fled their homes in Kutkai Township, Shan State, after Burmese government troops shelled their village amid ongoing clashes between the military and TNLA troops.
Despite peace talks since 2011, held both inside and outside Burma between the government and many of the country’s ethnic armed groups, war between the government and the KIA entered its fourth year this month. More than 100,000 Kachin civilians have been forced to flee their homes as a result.
Lum Dau said the KIA is expanding its military ties with other northern Shan State-based ethnic armed groups, such as the TNLA, MNDAA and Shan State Army-North, whom the
Kachin often find themselves fighting with side by side against the Burmese Army.
Meanwhile, government peace negotiators have indicated that they would like to sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement with Burma’s ethnic armed groups by August of this year, though the ambitious timetable is seen by observers and ethnic leaders as increasingly unlikely.
President Thein Sein’s administration introduced its peace program in late 2011, and only two ethnic armed groups, the KIA and the TNLA, have yet to sign bilateral ceasefire agreements with the government. The KIA is the second largest ethnic armed group in Burma, after the United Wa State Army (UWSA).