This week Burma's famed student leader Min Ko Naing and four colleagues visited western Kachin State's Hpakant (or Hpakan, Phakant) jade mining district, the recent seen of heavy fighting between government forces and the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).
A leading figure in Burma's 1988 nationwide student led uprising, Min Ko Naing was originally scheduled to visit the US this week where he had been invited to receive an award. At the last minute however Burma's second most famous political prisoner announced he was postponing his US trip out of solidarity with other former political prisoners who were recently denied passports to travel aboard.
Min Ko Naing and the rest of the student delegation arrived on Sunday, Sept. 16 for a three day visit which included meetings with the relatives of the those killed during the recent fighting, local villagers and migrant jade miners.
During their trip the student delegation also met with local Burmese military officials and their counterparts from the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) including the powerful local commander Major Nhkum Zau Doi head of the group's 6th Battalion, according to a member of the student delegation.
The delegation also included visits to internally displaced persons camps located in the Hpakant town center and several jade mining villages including Lawng Hkang (or Lonkin), Mashi Kahtawng, Seng Tawng, Maw Mung, Maw Wan, Nam Ma Hpyit and Mawsiza.
The student delegation visited a frontline post belonging to the KIO at Seng Ja Bum, about three miles west of Hpakant. Seng Ja Bum has seen extremely heavy fighting take place over the past 6 weeks amid large explosions at the mining operations of the Mya Tauk Kyay and Wai Aung Kaba companies, both firms connected to Than Shwe's military regime.
According to a Kachin student who attended some of the delegation's meetings Min Ko Naing thanked both the military and the KIO for halting hostilities during his visit. Min Ko Naing called on both parties to avoid civilian casualties during their clashes.
During his visit to Hpakant Min Ko Naing publicly called on local people to contribute to peace efforts in Kachin state, according to a member of his delegation.
On Sept. 15, a ninth grade Kachin schoolgirl Ja Seng Ing from Sut Ngai Yang village was shot and killed by Burmese soldiers. According to family members, Ja Seng Ing was shot dead as she was taking cover during a gun battle which appeared to be between two units from the Burmese military. Eyewitnesses report that the soldiers who shot at her seemed to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Shortly after her death Ja Seng Ing’s father was called to the local military base and given 100,000 Kyat (US$116) compensation from Than Htay, chief of the Hpakant strategic command, according to a friend of the family.
Last month two artisanal miners, locally known as yemase were shot dead by government troops and a third man was thrown down a mine shaft. All of the victims were ethnic Kachin.