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After a brief lull in fighting in Kachin state, battles have intensified in the past few weeks and the number of clashes breaking out between Kachin rebels and the Burmese army has gone up nearly two-fold.
The spokesperson for the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), La Nan, told DVB that fighting is “getting more common now – according to our statistics, there were 86 clashes in September and we have already had 84 clashes so far between 1 and 16 October”.
One area that has seen intense fighting in recent days is the region outside of Waingmaw township where the KIA’s Soe Moe Hill base is located. La Nan said fighting close to the strategically important base, which the Burmese are attempting to capture, has raged for four days.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch released a statement today warning that the human cost of the fighting in Kachin state since June has been heavy: “Burmese armed forces have been responsible for killings and attacks on civilians, using forced labor, and pillaging villages, which has resulted in the displacement of an estimated 30,000 Kachin civilians,” it said.
La Nan said that thousands of refugees were unable to return to their homes due to the lingering presence of Burmese troops in villages that have been ransacked and emptied. Yesterday morning a number of houses in Namsamyang village were razed.
One of the focal points of the fighting has been Momauk township in southern Kachin state, close to the Taping dam project. A Burmese assault on a KIA base near Taping dam broke a 17-year ceasefire between the two sides and triggered the current conflict.
Reports received by DVB yesterday claim around 600 civilians, including students, were stranded in Lawtdan village near to Momauk after gun battles erupted close to the village.
A resident of Lweje town east of Momauk warned that those trapped could be “in deep trouble” if either side starts firing artillery. He said the civilians could not return to Lweje because a nearby Burmese checkpoint was refusing to let them pass.
DVB cannot however confirm those reports.
The exoduses that followed the outbreak of fighting pushed thousands over the border into China, and many more to the KIA headquarters in Laiza. Human Rights Watch said that several thousand of those forced to flee their homes hid in the jungle, sometimes up to a month. Others fell into the hands of the Burmese:
“Some described being held by Burmese soldiers, who interrogated them harshly for information about the KIA, including by threatening to kill them. Interrogations were particularly menacing for villagers who spoke Kachin dialects and very little Burmese.”
Various attempts between the government and KIA to begin negotiations towards an end to the fighting have failed. The seemingly intractable nature of the conflict “[highlights] the importance of establishing a United Nations commission of inquiry into alleged violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law in Burma,” HRW said.
The group’s deputy Asia director Elaine Pearson added: “Pronouncements of political reform in Burma do not seem to have reached the army in Kachin state. Ongoing abuses starkly demonstrate that until real steps are taken towards accountability, including an international commission of inquiry, minorities such as the Kachin will be [at] grave risk.”