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Burmese army seizes KIA base near Tanai mines

IDPs displaced in mid-2017 from gold and amber mining sites in Tanai Township, Kachin State, shelter at a local church in the town of Tanai. (Photo: Ye Mon / DVB)

The Burmese armed forces announced yesterday that it had seized a military outpost and customs gate belonging to the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

The capture comes after several days of armed clashes, including air strikes, in Tanai, northern Kachin State, a strategic area that is home to several gold and amber mines under the control of the KIA.

“Several soldiers were killed on both sides during hostilities,” a statement read. “The Tatmadaw [Burmese government forces] are continuing clearance operations in the area.”

DVB has so far been unable to reach the KIA or its political wing, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), for comment.

According to the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), a regional church organisation, Burmese military offensives began on Friday and included a series of air strikes. At least five civilians were killed and many injured by those airstrikes.

“We were informed that two men and three females were killed, including a child,” said a local resident who did not wish to be identified.

Dabang Je Di, a KBC representative in the main town of Tanai, warned that workers and their families from the mining sites are now caught in no-man’s land and are planning to seek shelter from the conflict as soon as they can travel safely.

“We would like to go there and help them but we can’t. And they cannot come here either,” he told DVB earlier today.

He said KBC estimated that more than 3,000 mine workers and their families are currently in limbo because all the roads are blocked by military checkpoints.

“Local miners in my village have abandoned their homes and taken refuge in the nearby Namkwan gold mine,” said a worker from Zeephyukone amber mine.

He added that he had heard that two persons in his village had been killed by an air raid on Friday, and that the road to Tanai was blocked by military patrols.

“We were told that armed clashes continue alongside the route to Tanai so we dare not try to cross,” he said.

Lin Lin Oo, a lower house MP from Tanai Township, told DVB today that he spoke to the local township administrator who informed him that the Burmese army had said it would arrange for the evacuation of those mining families but that it insisted on taking care of the operation alone – without assistance or input from civil society organisations and religious groups.

“The military doesn’t want any organisations becoming involved in the movement of these civilians,” he said. “The Tatmadaw insists it will arrange safe passage for the miners and their families to shelter at the Zeya Thiri Monastery [in Tanai]. But they did not say when this transfer would take place.”

MP Lin Lin Oo said that he and another local lawmaker today petitioned the speaker of the upper house to raise a motion to assist the 3,000 miners and family members who have been caught in a precarious no-man’s land.

At least a thousand people flooded into Tanai last July after the Burmese army air-dropped leaflets by helicopter over the gold and amber mining sites where they were working, instructing them to leave the sites immediately or face a military “clearance operation”. The pamphlets said that the mines, which operate under the supervision of the KIO, are illegal and that anyone found still at the site after a deadline of 15 June would be considered an accomplice of the Kachin rebels.