Soldiers loyal to Zahkung Ting Ying, the recently deposed chairman of the New Democratic Army-Kachin ethnic ceasefire group, yesterday captured the Kachin town of Hpimaw on the China-Burma border, a regional source has reported.
The source, who requested anonymity, confirmed that the chairman’s supporters captured the NDA-K controlled town, north of the group’s headquarter in Pang Wah, after fighting which resulted in an unconfirmed number of deaths and injuries.
Pro-chairman troops are now understood to be marching towards Pang Wah where the coup leaders and their troops are based. “The fight could be tonight or tomorrow night,” the source told The Irrawaddy by phone today.
Many Pang Wah residents are leaving the town in anticipation of fighting breaking out between the two sides, and are heading for the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina and across the nearby China border. “There are not many people in Pang Wah,” the source said. “Everyone is running away.”
Tension between the loyalists and NDA-K members who support the recent coup has been building since September 14 when Zahkung Ting Ying was removed from office on charges relating to an alleged stranglehold on local businesses in Kachin State as well as his use of predominantly Chinese soldiers for his personal security team.
NDA-K general secretary Layawk Zelum led the coup while the chairman was visiting Rangoon. More than 80 people were arrested, including several of the chairman’s family members and security guards.
Gunfights between the rival groups began five days after the coup. The first battle occurred September 19 when a group of loyalists attacked a motorcade full of troops who supported the coup traveling to Hpimaw from Mankye. The attack reportedly left 10 dead and seven injured and was followed by further attacks on September 20 and 21.
Meanwhile, concerned for their own security, several members of the Kachin Independence Organization splinter group led by Col Lasang Awng Wa left Pang Wah, where the group had taken refuge since it broke away from the KIO after an alleged coup attempt at the KIO headquarters in Laiza, Kachin State, early last year.
Local sources say some members have traveled to Hpimaw, where troops loyal to Zahkung Ting Ying have taken control. One member of the splinter group told The Irrawaddy by phone that “we had no choice, as they suspected us to be allies of the chairman.”