Thousands flee homes in Kachin amid fighting between Myanmar forces, rebel army
The junta’s use of arson to clear villages has weakened support for the military regime, a villager says.
More than 3,000 residents in Kachin state’s Waingmaw township have fled their homes since early July to escape heavy artillery and air strikes from Myanmar junta forces and affiliated militias trying to dislodge an ethnic army fighting there, residents and rebel soldiers said.
The forces backing the ruling junta have attacked Kachin Independence Army (KIA) camps in Waingmaw, Hpakant, Tanai, and Shwegu townships, sources told RFA Burmese.
“We’ve been on the defensive because the military is attacking our areas in a move to expand their territory so that they can deploy the Shwe Min militias,” said KIA spokesman Col. Nawbu.
“The same is happening in the Se Zin area [of Hpakant township], where there were also air strikes,” he said. “We’re seeing more clashes in Kachin state where their militia groups are present.”
Famous for its jade mines, Hpakant is one of the most heavily-armed townships in the state and the scene of frequent clashes between the KIA and Myanmar military. It is close to the border with Sagaing region, where resistance to junta forces is also robust.
Fighting between the two sides intensified on July 10 after the junta army and the Shwe Min militia group attacked a camp near Nam Zaw Ran village in territory controlled by KIA Battalion (3), which comprises Waingmaw township.
The military used heavy artillery and air strikes as it clashed with a combined force of KIA soldiers and anti-regime People’s Defense Force (PDF) units in Se Zin village on Aug. 8 and 9.
The fighting came in response to an attack by KIA and PDFs, who captured a military camp in Se Zin and a pro-junta Shanni Nationalities army camp at a village in Homalin township.
Following the battle, junta soldiers set fire to over 400 houses, forcing more than 2,000 residents to flee.
A villager whose home was destroyed told RFA that the State Administration Council, the formal name of the military regime, has lost support in the area because of the actions of its troops.
“One thing is certain now. Even those who have been supporting the junta to this day have lost their homes and are furious because of these acts,” said the resident who declined to be identified for safety reasons.
“To say it frankly, there are no more ties with this junta,” he said. “As long as these people are there, everyone will be susceptible to these fires. Not only in our region, but in all regions.”
Villagers left homeless said it is not possible for them to return to their communities because armed groups of men are coming and going all the time.
Nearly 120 residents of Waingmaw’s In Wan Kawng village have fled their homes since July following clashes, locals said.
Heavy weaponry is 'only advantage'
Win Ye Tun, the junta’s spokesman in Kachin state, denied having knowledge about the national army’s offensives there, though he said authorities continue to support civilians from the SeZin area who are fleeing hostilities.
The state government has donated 10 million kyats (U.S. $4,700) for the internally displaced persons and is planning to contribute more funding, he said.
“We are working together with the disaster management team and the social welfare team to continue helping out children, the elderly, pregnant women and disabled people,” he said.
Naing Htoo Aung, secretary of the Ministry of Defense of the parallel National Unity Government, told RFA that heavy weaponry is the main advantage of the junta forces.
“The junta’s current fighting power is dependent on its weapons,” he said. “The morale of its troops is already very weak. Their only advantage is that they can use their weaponry, which they have obtained with the country’s funds. They have only weapons power, which is why they mainly carry out these aerial attacks.”
Military troops and KIA soldiers engaged in at least 13 battles in Kachin state in July alone, with about six of them air strikes, according to the Institute for Strategic and Policy Studies of Myanmar (ISP-Myanmar), a domestic research and policy group.
The institute’s senior research officer, Kyaw Htet Aung, said the attacks may be aimed at cutting off the connections between the KIA and the PDFs.
“They are launching offensives in cities, villages and townships all along the Mandalay and Myitkyina railway line,” he said. “Though I said ‘offensives,’ they are mostly providing supporting fire with heavy weapons and air strikes to gain more control on the ground.”
Junta forces are patrolling KIA supply routes, including rail lines, to cut off the connections between the army and the local PDFs in neighboring Sagaing region, Kyaw Htet Aung said.
Northwestern Myanmar’s Sagaing region has been a hotbed of resistance against the military forces ever since they overthrew the elected government in a February 2021 coup.
There would be more civilian casualties and displaced civilians amid widespread conflicts if the air strikes continued, he added.
From February 2021 until the end of this July, ISP has counted at least 191 battles in Kachin state.
Before the coup, Kachin state had more than 160 internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and nearly 150,000 civilian IDPs, according to Kachin-based organizations that work with displaced residents. Hostilities since then have added over 10,000 more refugees.
Translated by Khin Maung Nyane for RFA Burmese. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.