Burma's Kachin conflict turning into a war between militias

Zahkung-ting-ying-militia-groupThe conflict between the Burma government and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) has transformed into battles between their respective militias. These recent changes became evident soon after the inking of a seven-point agreement in late May. The agreement during the last peace talks between the Union Level Peace Making Committee and KIO leaders in Myitkyina, which led to the formation of a Kachin technical team to oversee these measures, was supposed to reduce the military maneuvers of both sides. But clashes have been ongoing since the signing. This is leading analysts to speculate if the fighting has slowed down at all or if the conflict is simply going underground.

In Chipwi Township heavy fighting between local militia groups loyal to both Naypyidaw and the KIO have been occurring on a daily basis since mid-August. The area is controlled by the pro-government’s border guard force (BGF) that is comprised of former members of the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K).

Bawm Lang, a pro-government Pangwa-based militia group leader, told the Kachin News Group that gunfire was being exchanged in Myaw Jawng area on Aug. 26. Casualties from both sides have been reported, but at the time of press the militia leader declined to give an exact figure.

KIO officials based in the Laiza headquarters confirmed that several BGF soldiers were killed in clashes near Law Hkawng on Aug. 17 and Myaw Jawng on Aug.19, in Chipwi Township. In both cases, the pro-KIO militia group Mungshawa Hpyen Hpung (MHH), backed by the KIA battalion 10, took on a government militia group, backed by both the BGF and Burma Army’s Light Infantry Battalion 521.

The KIO formed the MHH after failing to wrestle control from the BGF in the area in late April of last year. The government quickly responded by creating and arming their own militias in Chipwi and Sawlaw townships and Pangwa sub-township.

The recent inter-ethnic Kachin militia clashes started heating up after Zahkung Ting Ying, former NDA-K leader and member of the upper house in the parliament distributed a letter on Aug. 6 calling for the KIO to withdraw all their troops from BGF controlled territories.

A KIO senior officer in Laiza headquarters told the Kachin News Group that they rejected Ting Ying’s demand, adding that there is no plan for troop withdrawal from the areas in question.

Ting Ying told the Kachin News Group from his Rangoon residence that as long as the KIO have troops in areas that are or have been controlled by the former NDA-K then the fighting will continue.
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