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Burma army reinforcement raises fears in Hpakant

Despite a recent lull in hostilities between Burmese government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) around strategic Hpakant Township, the Burmese army has increased its presence in the jade mining area, spreading fear among locals that a resumption of the conflict is imminent.

“During this period while everyone is focused on peace talks, the Tatmadaw [Burmese army] has increased its troop strength,” said a minister from a Baptist church in Hpakant. “The KIO [Kachin Independence Organization, the KIA’s political wing] are worried that the Tatmadaw will advance and that the Kachins will have to respond.”

The government forces frequently fire mortars toward Kachin rebel positions, the minister said, adding that skirmishes continue in the area along the Mogaung-Hpakant Road. On Thursday night, a Burmese army motorcade arrived in Kamaing via the Mogaung-Hpakant Road, causing ripples of fear to spread across the local Kachin community, he said.

Similarly, a priest from the Hpakant Township Catholic Association told Mizzima that if the government increases its troop strength in the area, the villagers around the Hpakant–Kamaing Road were likely to take refuge in the urban area of Hpakant.

A resident in the town said that the ongoing tension has taken its toll on the local economy, with public transport at a standstill and many people afraid to go to work in outlying areas.

About 40 military trucks carrying foods, supplies, weapons and about 200 soldiers from the Tatmadaw Battalion No. 88 entered Kamaing via the Mogaung-Hpakant Road on the afternoon of November 15, according to Captain Hla Dwe of KIA Battalion No. 6.

“I believe they will launch a military offensive against us,” he told Mizzima.

As of November 13, volunteers from Kachin peace groups have visited the fleeing refugees at shelters in Hpakant, comforting them and offering donations, said relief worker Lamai Gum Ja. He said the refugees urgently need food.

“It’s difficult to get food and clothes for the refugees,” he said. “They have to shelter in churches and many are in poor health because of the cold weather.

He said there were at least 11 refugee “camps” or shelters with about 2,400 villagers now set up in the town.

More than one month ago, some 8,000 refugees were sheltering in Hpakant, but when hostilities ceased they returned to their villages.

Last Updated ( Saturday, 17 November 2012 13:50 )  

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