While the conflict the Kokang region of Myanmar, also known as Burma, has gotten many of the headlines in recent days, the government appears to also have increased its military presence in northern Kachin State, scene of recent fierce fighting that has left dozens dead or wounded.
An official with the Kachin Independence Organization [KIO], the political wing of the Kachin rebels, told VOA it appears the government is preparing for an offensive.
“We know that they have increased the number of troops. With the reason of relocating the troops, the number of troops has increased, as well as the supplies. The supplies, of course, include weapons,” said Daung Khar, a spokesperson from KIO’s technical advisory board.
He also predicted the KIO headquarters will be attacked very soon.
“On February 11, they attacked the outskirts of Laiza, [the location of the KIO headquarters]. And they also attacked a border road that goes from Laiza to Bahmaw. They did it intentionally," said Khar. "They want to create the kind of situation where they want to have dialogues, and want to attack on the other hand. But we did not respond it through violence. When I listened to the commander-in-chief’s words, it seems that they want to attack KIO."
At the Union Day celebration where the commander-in-chief and leaders of ethnic armed groups attended, General Min Aung Hlaing said that because there are ethnic armed groups involved in the conflicts happening in the Kokang region, the military should take action towards it.
But Daung Khar said that although the KIO has formed armed groups, they did not go to Kokang and attack.
“We do not have any armed forces or weapons formed due to the commands given by the central command. And we have not gone to Kokang and provide military support,” he said.
Lamine Gwan Jar of Peace-talk Creation Group [PCG], which acts as a go-between for Kachin rebels and the national government, said it is unclear what the army's intentions are.
“Based on what we know, they have located the troops. They are preparing to relocate the troops. Many troops have come but we do not know what they want to do; we do not know whether they want to relocate the troops or to increase the number of troops,” he said.
Clearing the Area
In some areas of Kachin, workers have been asked by the Myanmar military to leave the area.
“They say the KIO is using the military situation as an excuse to group new people and to tax people, the military have to come into the area and clear it up," said a businessperson from the amber mining industry who did not want to be identified. "And when doing so, armed conflicts can occur. Therefore, the Myanmar military has released announcements saying that 'the civilians are suggested to leave the place as soon as possible' because the Tatmadaw [the Myanmar military] is not going to be responsible for the security of the civilians.”
The military, which has not commented on its deployment of troops in Kachin state, did not respond to requests for comments on this story.
In the past, the KIO and the military have agreed to decrease the armed conflict, and a conflict resolution team was formed. The two sides also held talks when armed conflicts erupted. But since November, when the Myanmar army fired on the Kachin military academy in Laiza, there have not been any talks.
But the KIO has said it still support the goals of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team [NCCT], which is negotiating with the government on a national cease-fire agreement and peace deal.
This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Burmese service.