04/06/2018, 15.59
MYANMAR
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Kachin rebels announce military offensive against Myanmar military

The Kachin Independence Army wants to retake the gold and amber mines lost in recent government offensive. Thousands of miners and their families are trapped inside the war zone in Tanaing and Sumprabung. Since 2011, the conflict has killed hundreds and displaced more than 120,000 people.

Naypyitaw (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the armed branch of the Kachin minority in the homonymous northern state, announced a new offensive against the Myanmar military in the mining region of Hukawng Valley, near the city of Tanaing.

In a statement released yesterday by Battalion 14, the armed group called on illegal gold and amber miners to leave the area where it plans to lay landmines starting next Tuesday.

The statement listed gold and amber mining areas, including Shaduzup, Nam Byu, Nam Kawn, Tungmani, Dagum and Daba.

“The KIA doesn’t want civilians to get hurt on account of the fighting,” said Colonel Naw Bu, spokesman for the KIA and its political wing, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO).  

The latest round of fighting began in January when government forces launched several air strikes at Tanaing, a KIA-controlled area. The latter relies on mining as a source of income and levies a tax on mining operators.

The Myanmar military has accused Kachin rebels of illegally exploiting the region’s resources and taking revenue that belongs to the State.

In February, it told the KIA to move the headquarters of its Battalion 14 and other outposts from the Tanaing region, where it believed the KIO was conducting illegal business.

The rebels have rejected the charges. “KIA has gold and amber mine companies that are operating with the government’s permission,” Col Naw Bu said.

“In recent years, government army troops have taken up all the gold and amber mines and asked people to work there. There are always government army columns in the KIA’s Battalion 14 area.”

The latter had to abandon its headquarters in the second week of March after the Myanmar military launched a major offensive. “These were our areas. Therefore, we will launch an offensive to get them back,” Colonel Naw Bu said.

The KIA has slammed the Myanmar military for intensifying their operations to gain control of the territory before the next session of the Peace Conference backed by Myanmar’s democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi for May 2018.

Recent fighting has forced thousands of miners and their families to flee the area whilst trapping others inside the war zone near Tanaing and the town of Sumprabung.

The displaced people face food and water shortages, as roadblocks placed by the authorities prevent them from leaving the area and humanitarian organisations from bringing humanitarian aid to civilians.

Located on the border with China and India, Kachin State has been rocked by renewed fighting between the military and rebels since 2011 when a 17-year ceasefire broke down.

The clashes have left hundreds of people dead and displaced more than 120,000 people, many of whom still live in desperate conditions, including Christians, in local refugee camps.

The Myanmar military held informal talks with KIA leaders on 1 February in Yunnan, southwestern China, but the ongoing attacks have scuttled efforts to end the hostilities.

The KIA is one of several militias with whom the Myanmar government is trying to work out a deal to end decades of ethnic separatist civil wars and establish peace in the country through a series of peace negotiations launched in August 2016 by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The KIO has not signed a government-sponsored ceasefire inked in October 2015 by eight of the country’s more than 20 ethnic armies, with two more joining since then.

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