By Daniel Wynn
Government troops clashed with an armed student rebel group in restive Kachin state at the weekend just days before the leader of the group was due to return to Myanmar to hold talks with the government for the first time.
Hla Sai, a spokesman for the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), said army soldiers attacked an outpost manned by the insurgents in Laja Yang district in the north of the country on Saturday. No casualties were reported.
Sporadic fighting has persisted in Kachin state since last year when a 17-year ceasefire broke down between government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the main insurgent group in the area which is allied with the ABSDF.
“We know that President Thein Sein has ordered the army to hold fire, but on the ground we are seeing larger army reinforcements every day in Kachin state,” said Hla Sai.
Moethee Zun, the exiled leader of the ABSDF’s armed wing, is due to visit Naypyidaw by the end of the month, the Yangon-based Myanmar Times reported last week.
The student rebel group was formed on the Myanmar-Thai border following a failed uprising by democratic elements in the country in late 1988. Since then, the group has been labeled as terrorists by the Myanmar government, so too by the US between 2001 and 2010.
The ABSDF is estimated to number about 500 troops.
Preliminary peace talks between the government and the KIA remain stalled after the army refused to withdraw from areas previously held by the rebels.
“[The government] just want us to agree to another round of ceasefires which is not possible for us,” said a KIA spokesman.
Since last year, the fighting has left an unknown number of people dead amid reports of extra-judicial killings and rape perpetrated against villagers, prompting the displacement of about 60,000 people, many of whom have fled across the border to China.