Monday, July 20, 2009

Junta beefs up military presence in Kachin State

by Myo Gyi

Ruili (Mizzima) - In what could be preparation for a fresh military campaign, the Burmese army was recently seen transporting more troops toward the country’s north, where ethnic insurgents including the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) are based.

Eyewitnesses said on July 17th, over 100 soldiers along with several officers were seen offloading military equipment, believed to include heavy weapons, from a ship operating between Mandalay and Bamo on the Irrawaddy River.

An eyewitness who talked to some of the soldiers told Mizzima that he saw over 100 soldiers along with several officers unloading weapons from a ship anchored at Bamo’s Myoma port at about 9 p.m. (local time) on Friday.

Bamo, in Southeastern Kachin State, is connected to Burma’s second largest city of Mandalay by the Irrawaddy River.

“Some of them told me that an artillery detachment is being transferred. I don’t know what kind of weapons and artillery they carried because it was covered,” the eyewitness told Mizzima.

Another local, who also saw the soldiers, said there were more officers than privates among the troops offloading weapons and other military accessories from the vessel.

“As I heard news of soldiers arriving at the port, I rushed to take a look. I saw about a hundred soldiers, more officers than privates. There were also a number of officers inside vehicles that came to pick-up the soldiers,” the eyewitness said.

The fresh arrival of soldiers and weapons comes after the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) rejected the ruling junta’s proposal to transform its armed wing, the KIA, into a Border Guard Force (BGF), which would function as a border security force under the control and administration of the junta.

During a recent meeting on July 8th, representatives of the KIO, the only ceasefire group in Kachin state rejecting the junta’s proposal, told Major General Soe Win of the Northern Command that it prefers to change its name to the “Kachin Regional Guard Force” and maintain its army until a democratically elected government is installed.

Military observers said the refusal by several ethnic armed ceasefire groups including the KIO, United Wa State Army (UWSA) and others has ignited fresh tension between the groups and the junta.

After1988, the junta, under the leadership of the since purged military intelligence chief Lieutenant General Khin Nyunt, was able to negotiate ceasefire deals with 17 ethnic armed groups.

Now, the junta is pressuring ceasefire groups to transform into a Border Guard Force in accordance with its new constitution, approved in a rigged referendum last year.

Bamo, a strategic location in Northern Burma bordering China, has about 10 army battalions controlled by the No. 21 Military Operation Command based in the town.

It is, however, unknown where the newly arrived soldiers are heading and will be posted.

Prior to the KIO’s ceasefire deal with the junta in 1994, several parts of Kachin State were largely controlled by the KIO. But following the ceasefire pact, the junta has deployed several army battalions in various parts of the state.

Sources said in early July a convoy of army trucks loaded with arms and ammunition was also seen moving into Bamo.

The KIO, one of Burma’s longest running insurgent groups, has its headquarters in the Sino-Burmese border town of Laiza, about 40 miles north of Bamo.

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