Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kachin Recruiting Drive Launched as Tension Mounts

The Irrawaddy News

The military wing of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) is recruiting former soldiers as tension builds over the Burmese regime’s instruction to ceasefire groups to reassign their troops as border guards.

A Kachin military source said the recruitment drive by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) was to heighten the force’s preparedness. “We are alert and ready to open fire if our leaders order it,” he said.

Kachin Independent Army soldiers patrolling their own administered territory inside Hukawng Valley in Kachin State. (Photo: Steve Winter / National Geographic Image Collection)

The five infantry brigades of the KIA stationed in Kachin State and Northern Shan State have more than 4,000 troops. The KIA also has a mobile brigade and has built a military academy and officer training school near the border town of Laiza, where the KIO has its headquarters.

Local residents in the Sino-Burmese border region say young recruits have been sent to KIA’s military training schools.

“It seems that the KIA prepares for war,” said a Laiza resident.

KIA sources and local residents believe the KIA recruiting drive is related to the government order to transform the KIA into a new border guard force, the Border Security Force.

A KIO delegation led by the KIO's Vice-Chairman Lt-Gen Gauri Zau Seng discussed the order with the junta's Northern Regional Command commander Brig-Gen Soe Win in the Kachin capital of Myitkyina on April 28.

The proposed border force would have 326 troops, including three Burmese army officers and twenty seven other ranks.

The KIA military source said the government plan was opposed by KIA commanders, the Kachin Consultative Council and by the Kachin people as a whole.

The KIA source quoted the KIA chief of staff, Maj-Gen Gam Shawng Gunhtang, as saying “the KIA will not transform into a Border Security Force until political issues with the junta are solved.”

Another KIA source said senior KIO leaders had been travelling through Kachin State and Northern Shan State to gather public opinion about the government proposal.

“The KIO’s vice chairman 1, Dr. La Ja, went to KIA’s Brigade 4 area in Northern Shan State, where most people opposed the plan,” said the source.

The KIO reached a ceasefire with the regime in 1994. The organization runs local security, education, immigration and some other areas of self-government.

It also runs various businesses, collecting taxes at border crossings with China and overseeing the exploitation of natural resources such as jade, timber and gold.

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