Recent Clashes, Long War

The KIA is the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) which was formed in 1961 in response to a military coup led by General Ne Win.

Today they remain the second largest ethnic armed group in Myanmar with up to 8000 troops, according to independent reports. They signed a ceasefire deal with the government in 1994, but conflict resumed after 17 years in 2011 when government forces attacked KIA positions along the Taping River east of Bhamo, near the Ta-pein hydropower plant.

The largest battles occurred in 2012 and 2013 mainly around the Myitkyina-Bhamo road. The Myanmar army seized control of the Lajaryan outpost, 4 miles far from Laiza, the headquarters of the KIO, giving them strategic advantage over the road.

While military operations were successful, they came with large losses. In August 2013 the Myanmar Army acknowledged that it had lost 1000 soldiers between September to December 2012. A report by IHS Jane’s Defence said the official figure was around 5,000 casualties.

“No military camps are seen on Myitkyina-Bhamo road section, but now concrete strongholds are many,” said La Nan, a KIO information officer.

Controlling Supply Routes

While there have been conflicting accounts as to why the recent clashes occurred, most of the fighting has been concentrated around strategic roads along the Myitkyina-Bhamo-Mansi supply route.

Fighting erupted again in Kachin State between September 2013 to March 2014. The Ministry of Defence said in an announcement in April 19 that the army was taking action against timber smugglers on routes between Mansi-Moemauk, Simbo-Bhamo and Simbo-Manpi.

According to the army, the KIA’s No.12 Regiment under the 3rd Brigade was escorting the timber smugglers.

The KIO/KIA countered that the Myanmar Army was only seeking to control more territory by enforcing troops and seeking to surround strategic rebel-held areas along the border with China.

On April 10, the Myanmar Army led a series of attacks around the town of Mansi, as well as simultaneous offensives at Kutkai, east of the Shwe Li River in northern Shan State.

Here the area is jointly controlled between the Taaung National Liberation Army (TNLA) and KIA’s No.8 Regiment under 4th Brigade. Government troops have so far been successful in the recent fighting and gained new positions.

A Fallen Major Triggers Fighting

Before fighting resumed in  April, the government announced that the KIA was obstructing the nation-wide census leading to a rise in tensions.

On April 4, deputy commander Major Myo Nyunt Soe from Light Infantry Devision 567 came under attack by the KIA in Manwaiggyi.

According to a statement by the Ministry of Defence, the major was killed by a KIA ambush during a routine change of sentry on the Manweinggyi to Kaunghmuyan road.

The KIA has refuted this claim saying that the major, accompanied by a soldier, reached Manmaung village which is under KIA control at 3 pm in the afternoon of April 4.

“He entered our territory. When asked to stop the car for a check, they drove away. They were shot while they were running away. That night, his dead body and a captured soldier, who was still alive were sent back to the government side,” said an officer from the KIA’s Laiza headquarters.

After the major was killed, the Myanmar Army announced that it was launching operation to gain effective control of the Manweinggyi-Kaunghmuyan route. The reason was to preserve the state resources and to protect the livelihood of villagers in those areas.

On April 10 Myanmar Army troops from Military Operation Command 16, Division 88 conducted multiple attacks against KIA 3rd Brigade regiments. Clashes also occurred in Nantknan in northern Shan State where KIA 4th Brigade, 9th Regiment is situated.

Government forces expanded into KIA 3rd Brigade and seized KIO administrative office in Bankhanyon village in Mansi Township.

Subsequently KIA forces have withdrawn from Oolanpar district office near Pankhan village on April 10. On April 12, government forces seized Bankhan border gate between Manwainggyi and Nanttaung where KIA bases are located.

“Their border gate situated in China-Myanmar border and we seized the gate as they were doing illegal works there,” said a military official from the Northern Command Headquarters.

The Ministry of Defence has repeated that the clashes were started after KIA forces opened fire on government troops in the area. So far during the clashes, one military officer and two soldiers have been killed and one officer and four soldiers wounded.

After the clashes, government forces have gained control of the Mansi- Pankham – Manwainggyi route including one of the China-Myanmar border gates.

Attacks, Counterattacks and Retaliation

Fighting also took place when the KIA attacked a military resupply convoy on the Moemauk-Lwejal road.
According to information released by the Ministry of Defence, on April 13 seven army vehicles were travelling from Bhamo to Seinlon. The KIA attacked the convoy with grenades at mile post 12/4 near Kyaut Camp.

The vehicle in the middle of the convoy exploded in the attack, and two soldiers were killed and another nine injured. Most of the military supplies and ammunition was also destroyed in the attack.
In consequence, the army’s 99 Division captured Monghsat Kaung Camp and Dagawmakarbon Camp which are the KIA bases used to attack the convoy.

Monghsat Kaung Camp which is one of the main camps for KIA Brigade No 4, Regiment No 1 was captured on the evening of April 16. All in all the army lost three soldiers and another three injured, according to the Ministry.

As a result the army is now in control of the Bhamo-Moemauk-Seinlon-Lwejal route.

Why Has Fighting Broken Out?

Both the government and the KIO/KIA have agreed to reduce fighting during peace talks even though they have not reached a ceasefire yet.

The government says that the clashes are in self defence and to eradicate illegal smuggling while the KIO/KIA says that the fighting is a result of army incursions into their territory.

“The government troops make movements, accounting for dealing with illegal timber trade. Now we see the government troop movements as they deploy their troops to take security measures for the nation-wide census taking. Then fights break out whenever there are the movements,” said Daung Khar, a spokesperson for the KIO technical advisory office based in Myitkyina.

According to a government release, the army has stemmed the  lucrative illegal timber trade used by the KIA. Up to 5,087 tonnes of illegal timber, 120 cars and 53 smugglers (including 12 Chinese citizens) were arrested in Mansi-Momake, Hsinbo-Bhamo and Hsinbo-Manbin regions between September 2013 and March 2014.

The KIA has denied the government’s accusations saying that the timber comes from Sagaing Region not from Kachin State. They raised the question about the reinforcement of troops, saying that the fighting is a result of the army invading KIA territory.

Some experts see the recent fights as a way for the army to slowly surround and eventually capture the KIO/KIA headquarters in Laiza by strategically holding supply roads.

“The government is doing it on purpose so as to gain control of frontline territories after the ceasefire agreement has been signed,” said KIO information officer Lan Nan.

The government could soon control major road sections next to the KIO headquarters in Laiza as well as roads which link Kachin State to Sagaing Region and northern Shan State.

This would also serve to stop the KIA resupplying from territories that serve to protect Laiza and Migyaryan.