A Kachin rebel at Hka Ya Bhum, an outpost of the Kachin Independence Army in Lajayang. (Photo: Steve Tickner / The Irrawaddy)
MAI JA YANG, Kachin State — Heavy fighting between government forces and troops from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) displaced more than 300 local residents in eastern Kachin State on Thursday.
The fighting began Thursday morning when government troops attacked KIA Third Brigade positions close to Mai Ja Yang, the second-largest town controlled by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), aid workers operating in the area told The Irrawaddy. The KIO is the political wing of the KIA.
The fighting has already displaced some 300 people from U Yang and Nam Hka villages who arrived in Man Win Gyi, a government-controlled town, on Thursday afternoon. As the fighting has continued, more are expected to arrive at the local Catholic church.
Aid workers worry that the fighting will affect more than 1,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) currently staying at the Lagat Yang IDP camp, which is in KIO-controlled territory. Throughout the day on Thursday, Burma Army forces fired heavy artillery at a KIA position on Na Lung Bum mountain, less than 500 meters away from Lagat Yang. A few of the shells landed very near to the camp, according to staff from Wunpawng Ninghtoi (WPN), a local Kachin aid group.
Also on Thursday, a 40-year-old Shan villager named Chit Bwe from the village of Nawng Jung, very near to Lagat Yang, was injured by a shell believed to have been fired from government positions at Nawng Lum, WPN staff told The Irrawaddy.
As of Thursday afternoon, many Lagat Yang residents were preparing to head to Nan Moon, a small Shan village on the Sino-Burmese border. If the fighting spreads, they will likely try and cross into China.
Chinese authorities, however, appear reluctant to allow the IDPs to cross into neighboring Yunnan province. “We are very concerned about the safety of the IDPs,” said WPN’s director Mary Tawm.
While most of the affected IDPs are ethnic Kachin, some are also Shan and Palaung. Many of the residents of Lagat Yang were previously living at a camp in Nam Lim Pa village that came under attack by the army last November. Nam Lim Pa was seized by government forces just minutes after an aid convoy from a church group affiliated with the Burmese Catholic church entered the KIO-controlled village via government territory.
In a related development, the road from the government town of Man Win Gyi to the Chinese town of Nandau was closed by Burmese government authorities, potentially complicating efforts by humanitarian groups trying to reach the newly arrived IDPs.
Thursday’s fighting comes less than 48 hours after a KIO delegation led by Gen. Gun Maw took part in joint talks in Rangoon involving government officials and the KIO’s fellow representatives from the National Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT).
Fighting has been on and off between the ethnic Kachin rebels and government troops since June 2011, when a 17-year ceasefire agreement between the two sides collapsed.
Kachin, tribal peoples occupying parts of northeastern Myanmar (Burma) and contiguous areas ofIndia (Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland) and China (Yunnan). The greatest number of Kachin live in Myanmar (roughly 790,000), but some 150,000 live in China and a few thousand in India. Numbering about 1012,000 in the late 20th century, they speak a variety of languages of the Tibeto-Burman group and are thereby distinguished as Jinghpaw, or Jingpo (Chingpaw [Ching-p’o], Singhpo), Atsi, Maru (Longvo), Lachid, Nung (Rawang), and Lisu .
The traditional Kachin religion is a form of animistic ancestor cult entailing animalsacrifice. As a result of the arrival of American and European missionaries in Burma beginning in the late 19th century, a majority of the Kachin are Christian, mainly Baptist and Roman Catholic. Among the Kachin in India, Buddhism predominates.