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Fierce fighting broke out around Hpakant on Thursday morning between Burmese government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). This follows an incident the day before when a regional government minister and three policemen were detained by the KIA; the minister was later released.
Dau Hka, a member of the KIA’s Technical Advisory Team tasked to negotiate with the government, claimed the Burmese army provoked the clash.
“We were informed by our commanders that the Tatmadaw [Burmese army] began shelling our 6th Brigade positions at around 6:30am,” he said. “The fighting was continuing as of 9am.”
The Burmese government are yet to make any announcement regarding the clash in Hpakant, a jade-rich area, located 150km west of state capital Myitkyina.
Than Naing, a local National League for Democracy official in Hpakant, told DVB on Thursday morning that fighting was in progress near Aungbarlay village.
“We can hear very loud exchanges of gunfire and artillery shelling,” he said.
“Villagers from Aungbarlay, Kanseekhaw and Ngatpyawtaw are fleeing their homes and heading for shelter at a nearby monastery. A local school has been closed. I am just about to make a run for it, too,” he said, before ending the call.
This most recent outbreak of hostilities comes at a time of heightened tensions between the two sides following an incident in November when 23 ethnic cadets at a KIA training camp were killed by an artillery shell fired from Tatmadaw positions.
On Wednesday, Kachin State Minister for Transport Kamann Du Naw was briefly detained by KIA troops while inspecting construction work on a local highway. Although he was released, three policemen who were escorting him are still being held.
“A KIA armed group comprising about 25 troops shot in the air and stopped U Kamann Du Naw, the transport minister of Kachin State, and security personnel led by SIP Myint Soe near Hwaylone Village in Hpakant Township around 11.25am while the minister was travelling along with others along the Hpakant- Seikmu- Hwaykar- Nyaungpin- Loneton- Hopin Road,” reported state media on Thursday.
“After interrogating the minister and his entourage, KIA armed troops allowed the minister to proceed [on] his tour but abducted the policemen with arms and ammunition.”
Burma’s state media reported that authorities were negotiating the release of the “abductees”.
“A local column of the Tatmadaw is in hot pursuit of the KIA troops,” the report concluded.
The KIA has also clashed with government troops in northern Shan state’s Kutkai Township over the past three days.
The KIA experienced a 17-year ceasefire with the government until 2011 when hostilities resumed after the Kachins refused demands to incorporate its battalions into border guard units under Burmese army command.