Fighting between Myanmar Military and KIA in Kachin State
Yangon Pandita
May , 2018

Mounting clashes between Myanmar military and ethnic rebels Kachin Independence Army (KIA) have forced further waves of civilians to fee their homes in northern Kachin state in the third week of April.

The ongoing clashes into the fnal week of April sparked the latest exodus of residents that community buildings such as churches have become jammed with refuge-seeking displaced persons, according to Christian religious leaders and local relief groups. The disorder has reached to a next level since April 11 when heavy fghting between Tatmadaw (Myanmar Armed Forces) and the KIA erupted in Hpakant and Tanaing townships, with around 2,000 people from Awng Lawt, Sut Ring Yang and Sut Ra villages in Tanaing reportedly being trapped in jungle fleeing from the confict.

Starting from 2011, Kachin state that shares borders with China and India in northernmost Myanmar has fallen in turmoil because of a recurrent insurgency by the KIA after the breakdown of a 17-year old ceasefire agreement with Myanmar government. The fresh flare-up began in Tanaing Township in western Kachin early this year following Tatmadaw’s announcement of clearing operations in a KIA-controlled gold- and ambermining area, through which the rebel group makes a major source of income by levying tax on mine operators. Tatmadaw has accused the insurgent group of illegally using the area’s natural resources and making money from mining businesses that should otherwise go to the country’s treasury.

After Tatmadaw opened attacks on KIA positions in late January following its announcement, the KIA offered immediate reaction with serial attacks including a strike in which about 50 KIA soldiers launched heavy-gun assauls on government troops’ camps in Lwele village in Moe Kaung Township in Myitkyina district on February 3, reportedly taking military lives. More than 3,000 residents in the area including villagers and itinerant miners and their families have turned into internally displaced persons (IDPs) Nations report on April 23.Of the IDPs, thousands of miners and their families were initially prevented from leaving the mining region by Tatmadaw. But it recently permitted about 1,000 to leave on foot and go to the town of Tanaing, albeit approximately 1,000 people are still trapped in the region according to reports.

The KIA is the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), which was founded in February 1965 with a reason to claim equal rights for Kachin people. The actual usage of the word ‘Kachin’ relates to a grouping of six ethnicities: Rawang, the Lisu, the Jingpaw, the Zaiwa, the Lachik and the Maru. The name of Kachin state comes from the fact that it is a region where those ethnic nationalities predominantly reside. But the term ‘Kachin people’ is best understood to be a reference to the Jingpaws, and often used interchangeably with it.

But the KIA only represents the Jingpaw people, an ethnic group who are the largest subset of the Kachin peoples, which mainly inhabit the mountainous  regions in Kachin state in northern Myanmar, neighbouring Yunnan province of China and small swathes in north-eastern India. The KIA is the second largest ethnic armed group in Myanmar after the United Wa State Army (UWSA), the military wing of the United Wa State Party (UWSP) which is the political party that controls Wa Self-Administered Division in eastern Shan state. The KIA claims to have 10,000 troops with another 10,000 reservists in the civilian population ready to fight. It is funded by its mother organisation KIO, which raises large revenues by generating from the rich natural resources of the area it controls and levying local taxes, enabling them to create a powerful army and develop trade centres along the China-Myanmar border, e.g. Laiza and Mai Ja Yang. It collects taxes at border crossings with China and engages in various business deals throughout the state, often related to the exploitation of natural resources such as jade, timber and gold. The headquarters of the KIA is situated near the town of Laiza it controls. It is one of several ethnic militia forces with which successive Myanmar governments have been trying to end decades-long internal confict and forge peace in the country through a series of peace negotiations. The KIA had engaged in 33-years long war with Myanmar government from its formation in February 1961 until February 1994, when it signed a peace agreement with the government, resulting in an end to large-scale fghting. The peace agreement came after a Myanmar army offensive seized the jade mines from the KIO.

And then, the KIA resumed fighting against the government in June 2011 in opposition to the construction plan of massive Myitsone dam, ending the 17-year old ceasefre agreement. Since then it has continuously engaged in insurgency. Because of the fght between Tatmadaw and the KIA, more than 100,000 residents remain displaced in Kachin and Shan states since the confict restarted on June 9, 2011.

At one time, blaming the government’s military actions in the north-east, the KIA joined three smaller ethnic armed groups of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Arakan Army (AA) to launch a major offensive on 10 government targets in eastern Shan state in November 2016. The attacks, which came in the frst year of the current administration led by the National League for Democracy (NLD), also targeted the 105-mile trade zone in Muse Township, and claimed at least nine lives while wounding other 29. State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s Offce announced that in addition to police and military installations, the Thein Ni-Namtu, Nant Pon and Swon Lon bridges came under attack. The KIA aligns particularly with the TNLA and MNDAA troops. The groups share territorial proximity, and conduct joint operations against Tatmadaw. Although numerous rounds of ceasefre talks have taken place between the government and the KIA since June 2011, they fail to reach a permanent ceasefre agreement up to now. The KIO has refused to sign the government’s nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA), which was signed under the previous Thein Sein administration with eight ethnic armed groups in October 2015. The initial NCA signatories were Chin National Front (CNF), All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), Karen National Union (KNU), Karen National Union/Karen National Liberation Army – Peace Council (KNU/ KNLA PC), Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and Pa-O National Liberation Organisation (PNLO). And the number of armed ethnic groups which confrm the agreement amounted to 10 recently when the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and the Lahu Democratic Party (LDU) ratifed it on February 13, 2018.

The NCA seeks to achieve a negotiated settlement between the government of Myanmar and non-state ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) that paves the way for peace-building and national dialogue. Consisting of seven chapters, the “draft” text of the NCA agreed on March 31, 2015, stipulates the terms of ceasefires, their implementation  and monitoring, and the roadmap for political dialogue and peace ahead. As such, the NCA, if signed by all parties, would represent the frst major step in a longer nationwide peace process.

Other armed groups including the country’s largest insurgent forces such as the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) did not enter the agreement. Three other groups — the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Arakan Army (AA) — have been excluded from the NCA as they are still engaged in fghting with Tatmadaw. The KIO is a former member of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), an alliance of the nonceasefire signatory ethnic groups currently comprising Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), New Mon State Party (NMSP), Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP-SSA/N), Arakan National Council/Arakan Army (ANC/AA) and Lahu Democratic Union (LDU), but the NMSP and the LDU are no longer the members following their signing of NCA. The KIO/KIA resigned from the UNFC in 2017 with Wa National Organisation (WAO), Palaung State Liberation Front/ Ta’ang National Liberation Army (PSLF/TNLA) and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). The alliance also suspended three other groups in 2015 namely Chin National Front (CNF), Karen National Union (KNU) and Pa-O National Organisation (PNO). While the current Myanmar government has vowed to bring an end to the decades-long conflict, the renewed clashes have overshadowed its peace efforts.