Kachin civil society organizations say that they are concerned that the Burma Army is planning a military offensive in areas under the control of the Kachin Independence Organization/Army (KIO/A), after a reported “warning” from the head of the Northern Command, based in Myitkyina.
Duwa Lamai Gum Ja of the Peace-talk Creation Group (PCG) told KNG that the commander of the government forces’ Northern Command, Maj-Gen Tayza Kyaw, asked the Myitkyina-based network to send a message to the KIO.
“The commander of the northern military command called up PCG on March 20. He warned the KIO through us. The government already declared the Arakan Army (AA) a terrorist group. The government forces may launch an offensive in the KIO area because of the presence of the AA in the KIO area,” Duwa Lamai Gum Ja explained, adding, “He told us that the KIO needed to move all AA troops out of the KIO area.”
The reference was to an official government statement last week designating the AA—and ally of the KIO—as a “terrorist” organization. The Burma Army has been fighting the AA in southern Chin State and northern Rakhine State for five years, with clashes intensifying in recent months.
Duwa Lamai Gum Ja pointed out that while some AA troops may still be in the KIO-controlled territory, the organization considers their headquarters to be in Panghsang, in the Wa Self-Administered Region, where the United Wa State Army is based.
“A few AA troops remain present in the KIO/KIA area,” he said, adding that the military is trying to “put pressure on the KIO.”
The KIO also reportedly issued a response to the Burma Army threats through the PCG.
“We are trying to sign a bilateral ceasefire agreement, but we cannot meet each other because of the coronavirus outbreak. It’s not that we don’t want to sign an agreement,” the KIO’s response said. “In this situation, the declaration of the AA as a terrorist group is not the right way to solve the problem.”
Duwa Lamai Gum Ja said that PCG and Maj-Gen Tayza Kyaw met again in Myitkyina on Sunday and the PCG urged the army not to attack the KIO headquarters in Laiza, citing both the coronavirus pandemic and the need to solve political problems through political—not military—means.
Peace talks between the government and the members of the Northern Alliance of ethnic armed groups, which the AA and KIO are members, in addition to the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, have stopped since February due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Stakeholders had agreed to meet in March but there was no agreement on the meeting venue. According to the PCG, the Northern Alliance had proposed meeting in China, but the government suggested Kengtung in eastern Shan State or Myitkyina.
The Burmese authorities have put half on all public gatherings until at least April 30 because of the coronavirus outbreak. The PCG speculates that a meeting between the Northern Alliance and the government might not take place until May at the earliest.