The Burma Army has issued an order to armed ethnic rebels in Kachin State that observers say is akin to a declaration of war, as the government claims to be working toward peace in the region.
In a letter sent on Sunday, the government’s Burma Army ordered ethnic rebels to vacate an important route near their headquarters.
All soldiers from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) should leave the route to Lajayang region, about 11 kilometers from their headquarters in Laiza on the Sino-Burma border, before Tuesday, according to the letter.
Kachin leaders responded that they would stand their ground.
The letter was signed by Brig-Gen Tun Tun Naung, northern commander of the government’s army, and sent through the independent Peace Talk Creation Group. It said government soldiers would be deployed to the Lajayang region to work on administrative processes there.
But Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burma military watcher on the Sino-Burma border, said he believed the deployment would serve a military purpose.
“It’s not normal; it’s a declaration of war,” Aung Kyaw Zaw said, adding that government forces would likely wipe out KIA troops if the rebels remained on the frontlines.
“It’s not suitable to make such an order when the government is working on the peace process with ethnic groups,” he added.
The KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), sent a letter to the government’s main peace negotiator, Minister Aung Min of the President’s Office, saying it rejected the Burma Army’s order, which it described as a military threat, and would continue to keep rebel fighters in Lajayang.
The KIO’s letter was sent to Aung Min on Monday and seen by The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.
The letter said the KIO rejected military threats to resolve the conflict, as the organization aims for a resolution through political dialogue during peace negotiations with the government.
The conflict in Kachin State is escalating, as more government troops head toward KIA headquarters and fighting breaks out daily, according to Kachin sources.
Fighting is especially bad in Lajayang, a region that government troops hope to overtake, observers say. The region is strategically close to KIA headquarters in Laiza, where about 70,000 refugees have taken shelter.
“Our bases in that region [Lajayang] are very important for us and our headquarters,” KIO spokesman La Nan told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday. “There’s no way we’ll pull our troops out of there.”
La Nan said the Burma Army’s order seemed to indicate plans for a large-scale military offensive.
“Our troops are deployed in those [Lajayang] areas,” he said. “If they [government soldiers] enter that zone, fighting will surely break out.”