KACHIN Independence Army (KIA) troops stationed in eastern Kachin State's Momauk Township are on high alert following several hours of fighting with Burmese government troops on Thursday, as sources report that both sides appear to be bracing for further hostilities.
The fighting broke out early Thursday morning before dawn and continued until noon, according to sources in the area. The fighting involved Battalion 15 of the KIA's Brigade 3 and Burmese Battalion 437.
More government troops have been deployed as reinforcements along a route connecting Bhamo and the state capital of Myitkyina, as well as in Momauk and areas near the KIA headquarters of Laiza since late last night, according to Laiza resident Seng Aung, speaking to The Irrawaddy on Friday.
A resident of Maijaya, a village in Bhamo District, where Momauk Township is also located, said: “Almost all the Kachin men in the village have gone to the area where the fighting broke out yesterday. Now there are mostly only women, children and few men remaining in the village.”
The male residents were likely summoned by the KIA as reinforcements, as they serve as members of a paramilitary militia under KIA command, said the resident.
“If government troops continue to cross KIA-controlled areas, majors fighting is expected. If they withdraw their troops, the situation will return to normal,” said Seng Aung.
Lapai Naw Din, the editor of the Thailand-based Kachin News Group, said that the clashes on Thursday were serious because tension has been mounting between the KIA and the government over the KIA's refusal to become a border guard force under Burmese army control.
Some 500 troops were involved in the fighting—which included mortar shelling—on Thursday. At least three government soldiers were killed and six injured, while two KIA soldiers were wounded, said Lapai Naw Din.
The KIA, which has an estimated 10,000 troops, signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in 1994. However, the ceasefire informally broke down following skirmishes between the two sides late last year.
On Feb. 7, an armed clash between government troops and the KIA occurred just southeast of Bhamo, another area that is under the control of KIA Brigade 3.
On Oct. 18 of last year, an office of the KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization, was raided by government troops who arrested two KIO officials. A few days later, government newspapers referred to the KIA as “insurgents” for the first time in more than a decade and a half. -- The Irrawaddy