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Hpakant Township residents say that tensions between government forces and the Kachin Independent Army (KIA) continue to rise in the area, forcing schools and businesses to close down.
The already tense atmosphere in the jade-rich Kachin State township was exacerbated on October 15 when a local Burmese army battalion prohibited Aung Bar Lay Village residents from moving freely around the area.
As a result, schools in Aung Bar Lay and Kan See Villages have been closed and many businesses in Hpakant have also shut their doors, according to Sheila Seng, an honorary National League for Democracy (NLD) member in Hpakant.
In an interview with DVB, Sheila Seng said: “Schools in Kan See and Aung Bar Lay had to close down temporarily as government troops are poised to launch an offensive at any time. The schools were closed for the safety of the students. The jade businesses [in Hpakant] have also slowed down. People are very concerned about this dangerous situation.”
The honorary NLD member also said that both the Burmese army and the KIA have reinforced their troops in the past few days.
“There are many troops. They have been transported from lower Burma in trucks of all sizes. There was already a military division in the area, and around 1,000 reinforcements have just arrived. We also heard the KIA is reinforcing its troops because without reinforcements they would be trapped,” she said.
The standoff began when companies that didn’t want to pay taxes to the KIA complained to government troops, who then ordered KIA troops to withdraw from the area. Government troops also instructed local villagers to move away from the area, according to local residents.
The KIA’s Vice Chief of Staff, Major General Gon Maw, told DVB that friction between government forces and KIA soldiers started increasing when the government ordered the KIA’s 6th Battalion to leave the area.
Although Maj. Gen. Gon Maw said that mediators are currently negotiating a way to resolve the problem, he indicated that fighting will probably break out again if the negotiations fail.
“Our battalion is negotiating with local government forces, and our liaison office in Myitkyina is negotiating with government commanders. We also sent a letter to U Aung Min, but the government keeps telling us to move the KIA’s 6th battalion away from the area. If they launch an offensive on the 6th Battalion there will be an escalation of conflict in Kachin State,” said the KIA major general.
There hasn’t been any shooting yet, but villagers from Aung Bar Lay are talking with religious and social organizations about the possibility of taking refuge in a safer part of Hpakant Township.