Escalation of Kachin conflict nothing to do with copper mine protests

Increased fighting between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) since the beginning of December has nothing to do with the ongoing protests against joint Sino-Burmese copper mine project in Letpadaung, Sagaing Region, according to well-known Yunnan-based analyst Aung Kyaw Zaw.

“It is just a psychological warfare to divert attention on the army’s losses (on the Kachin front),” he said. “They want to create an impression on the people that the Chinese, being unhappy with how things are taking place in Letpadaung, have been working up on the Kachins to step up their operations.”

Other likely reasons, he thought, included:

  • The failure of the latest round of peace talks on 30 October
  • Increased and sustained military pressure to fuel division between the people and the KIA, and between the leadership and its rank and file
  • The army wants to conduct new negotiations from a superior position

Heavy fighting is reported in Laja Yang, west of Laiza, and Pang Wa, north of Laiza, the KIA capital. Kachin News Group also reported hundreds of Burmese troops moving to the Indo-Burmese border in the west.

The Burma Army has also brought new gadgets into the picture: Mi 24 gunships and Carl Gustaf rocket launchers.

Asked how relations are between the Kachin Independence Organization / Kachin Independence Army (KIO/KIA) and China, where the Kachin State borders with Tengchong, Dehong and Baoshan, he said, “China is not supporting any group like it did for the Communist Party of Burma (CPB). With the Kachins, its stand is even clearer. You cannot find any ethnic Kachins from China in the KIO leadership. They are all Burmese Kachins.”

Moreover, refugees fleeing into China are being driven back. “Concerning the Myitsone dam project (that was suspended by President Thein Sein), the Chinese government is really put out with the KIA,” he explained. “It was the KIA that lodged the first protest. There was also a bomb blast at the (Chinese) company headquarters in Myitsone a year ago.”

On top of that, Beijing don’t trust the Kachins for their connections with the West which include religious ones, according to him.

With regards to the military situation, Aung Kyaw Zaw sees no sign of the Burmese government taking any decisive action. “There are an awful lot of units, but they are all spread out,” he said. “The casualties are heavy and the soldiers’ fighting spirit is at the lowest ebb. It is only their superiors who are pushing them to fight on. But the soldiers’ main concern is to return home alive.”

The Kachin conflict began with the Burma Army, citing security for Chinese operated hydropower project, sent troops into the area controlled by the KIA on 9 June 2011. The almost 18 month war has displaced some 100,000 people.


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