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Fighters attack jade mining town as Myanmar sleepwalks into civil war

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
People look at thick columns of black smoke from Hkamti, Sagaing, Myanmar May 22, 2021 in this picture obtained from social media.

Fighters affiliated with one of Myanmar’s key ethnic groups resisting the military coup in the East Asian nation have attacked army posts at the northwestern jade mining town of Hkamti, marking a major advance into new territory.

Kachin Independence Army (KIA) forces launched an assault on the military position in the Sagaing region early Saturday, as the ruling military junta struggles to contain  popular opposition to its February 1 seizure of power, local media reports said.

Images published by the local Irrawaddy and Mizzima online news outlets showed columns of dark smoke rising from what they described as the scene of the attack by KIA fighters.

KIA spokesman Naw Bu said he was aware of the armed assault but could not share any details of the reported operation.

"The fighting is still ongoing. I can still hear the gunshots," Mizzima quoted one resident as saying, describing the scene of the attack at the site which is near a mining venture that involves the military-owned Myanma Economic Holdings Ltd.

Myanmar’s military was said to be using warplanes to attack KIA forces at Hkamti, a town on the Chindwin river in a remote region rich in jade and gold that lies about 50 kilometres from the border with India.

Since the military coup, open skirmishes have resumed between the army and the KIA, which has been engaged in an armed struggle for greater autonomy for the Kachin people over the past six decades and has expressed support for anti-junta protesters.

Myanmar’s armed forces have conducted numerous bombing attacks on KIA positions in recent weeks and further battled with ethnic armies in the east and west of the country.

Myanmar’s army last week also attacked fighters of the Chinland Defense Force (CDF) in the northwestern town of Mindat in what was described as “some of the heaviest” rounds of fighting with local armed groups opposing the military coup. Ten people have been killed in Chin over the past week.

Those fleeing hostilities say thousands of people left Mindat after the army attacked to uproot the CDF fighters.

Last Tuesday, the UN refugee agency mentioned “reports of civilians killed and injured and civilian property damaged or destroyed.”

“Access by humanitarian partners to the people fleeing violence or those still in their homes is challenging due to insecurity,” said the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The displacement threatens to push more people over the nearby border with India, where more than 15,000 people had sought refuge since the February coup. 

Residents of Mindat, near the Indian border, had also reported intense fighting in the area earlier in the week, forcing people to hide in jungles and remote villages as the military made advances into the town after days of fierce battles with local fighters.

More than 800 people have been killed by the military since protests broke out in Myanmar against the military coup, according to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP).

Nearly 4,000 people have also been detained since Myanmar’s military overthrew the civilian government of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and began a brutal crackdown on protesters.

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