The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and its armed wing closed several amber mines operating in the group's territory in western Kachin state's Hukaung (Hugawng) Valley last week. The mine shut-downs come after increasing tension between the KIO and Burmese government forces in the area, KIO officials tell the Kachin News Group.
Nearly all of the people working in mines located in Nambyu, an area controlled by the Kachin Independence Army's (KIA) Battalion 14 under the group's 2nd Brigade, vacated the area by Saturday, October 4th, according to Lt-Col Nhpang Naw Bu, a senior KIO official based at the group's Laiza headquarters.
“The illegal amber mining activities have been halted at this time, because it’s illegal and also opposed by the government,” Naw Bu told the Kachin News Group.
The latest KIO imposed mine closure occurred shortly after the Burma army’s Danai based Regional Operation Command (ROC) began conducting military movements in the amber mining area, according to mine workers.
In late March the KIA's 2nd Brigade shut down all amber mines operations in Nambyu in territory controlled by its Battalion 14 after government forces were dispatched to the area. The mining then shifted to other places in Nambyu until last week's new round of closures. After last week's mine closures hundreds of workers arrived at the nearby Danai town, according to local residents.
Demand for Hukaung amber has been gradually increasing in Burma and China over the past few years. The Hukaung valley is known to produce some of the best amber in the world including highly prized pieces that contain insects from millions of years ago frozen in time.
Burma army blocks roads to KIA 2nd brigade headquarters Awng Lawt in Hukaung valley
Both road and river access from the Hukaung valley town of Danai to Awng Lawt, location for the headquarters of the KIA's 2nd Brigade, have been blocked on the orders of senior military commanders based at the Regional Operation Command (ROC) in Danai, according to KIA officials and local people in the area.
All travel to Awng Lawt and all shipments of food and supplies to Awng Lawt have been completely banned since a full blockade went into effect on September 28th.
The KIO's Lt-Col Naw Bu who serves as the KIO's representative on the joint committee with the central government which is tasked with reducing tensions between the two sides, told the Kachin News Group that the Burma army’s blockade of the KIA 2nd Brigade headquarters is a direct result of the KIA’s opium eradication campaign which is currently being carried out in both Danai and Nambyu.
Late last month, the KIA 2nd brigade headquarters received a letter from the ROC in Danai warning that government forces would soon launch a military operation in the 2nd Brigade area to search for 16 army soldiers who were detained by the KIA. The letter which did not contain an official seal indicated that the army actions would begin if the soldiers were not freed by October 3rd, said Naw Bu. The letter also alleged that the KIA's Battalion 14 was recruiting troops from nearby gold and amber mines as well as constructing military barricades, Naw Bu said.
Prior to receiving the warning letter the KIA released two detainees who were family members of Burma army personnel. The 16 individuals who remain detained are being held because of drug related offensives and have not been released so far, explained N’gram La Awng, a civilian administrative official working for the KIA 2nd Brigade.
During the most recent meeting of the joint committee held in Myitkyina on October 3rd, the KIO representatives explained to their counterparts from the Burmese army that the recent increase in tensions was a result of the military confusing the KIO's arrest of drug users and dealers with new military recruitment, said the KIO's Lt-Col Naw Bu who took part in the meeting.
Negotiations between the two sides to lift the blockade against the KIA 2nd brigade headquarters remains ongoing, according to N’gram La Awng.
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