Brig-Gen Sumlut Gun Maw, Vice Chief of Staff of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has disputed government claims that 42 KIA soldiers recently deserted to the Burma army.
Reached by phone at his group’s Laiza headquarters, Gun Maw told the Kachin News Group that the deserters were from the KIA supported village defense force known in Kachin as Mungshawa Hpyen Hpung or People’s Army and not in fact regular KIA soldiers, as claimed by the government.
Burmese state media reported on Wednesday that a group of 35 KIA soldiers led by Corporal Kyaw San surrendered to a Burma army column near the Talawgyi village area in Myitkyina township on Monday April 16. State media also reported that the following day 7 more soldiers deserted to the same group of army troops from Infantry Battalion No. 37.
It is believed that the deserters were serving under the command of the People’s Army in an area controlled by the KIA’s Brigade 5.
Gun Maw explained that that the group that surrendered while working alongside the KIA was not actually serving in the KIA. “The KIA headquarters did not control them, they were helping us partially like a militia,” he said.
“They were not military personnel but villagers, some had not received military training”, he added. Gun Maw said the KIA will continue to investigate the events that led to the surrender.
According to an official with the KIA’s Brigade 5 the villagers may have felt they had to surrender to the Burma army after government troops threatened to burn their homes in Talawgyi and arrest their family members.
Human rights activists and refugees often report that soldiers from the Burma army frequently hold unarmed civilians hostage as a form of collective punishment or to extract some form of concession.
Fate of surrendered soldiers unknown
It currently remains unclear what happened to the 42 individuals who surrendered to the army. Fighting between the Burma army and Kachin forces remains heavy in the area where they surrendered.
According to sources in the field it is possible that many of the surrendered soldiers could have been injured or killed in heavy fighting that broke out in the days that followed their surrender.
The Burma army is known to use prisoners and civilians caught in conflict as human mine sweepers or human shields.