A bomb has killed two bank employees in Shan state, as conflict surrounding Myanmar’s borderland gem mines intensifies
Two people have been killed and 22 others wounded by a bomb that exploded on Wednesday afternoon at a Yoma Bank branch in northern Shan state, a region that has been plagued by conflict and criminality since the withdrawal of the British empire in 1948.
While no one has claimed responsibility for the bombing in the city of Yashio, members of the Myanmar military, or Tatmadaw, have laid the blame squarely at the feet of the Northern Alliance, a coalition of ethnic military groups fighting to turn Myanmar into a federation of semi-autonomous states.
Roughly a month ago, senior general Kyaw Than Swe from the Myanmar Military Security Department issued a warning, in publicly distributed fliers, that the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, two members of the Northern Alliance, were preparing to attack the city.
“We got the information that they were making bombs a long time ago so that’s why we distributed the fliers,” Major Khaing Zaw Win from the Military Security Department told the New York Times on Wednesday. “The Northern Alliance is destroying peace and disturbing the public.”
The bombing is the latest in a series of attacks on civilian targets that the Tatmadaw has blamed on the Northern Alliance, accusations that the ethnic military coalition claim are false and serve to justify the Tatmadaw’s brutal counterinsurgencies.
Reports from Fortify Rights, Human Rights Watch, and a number of community-based organisations allege that the Tatmadaw has engaged in “extrajudicial killings, torture, forced labor, rape and other acts of sexual violence, arbitrary detention, attacks on civilians and civilian objects, and pillaging of property” in Kachin and Shan States since 2011.
The KIA has been implicated in the use of child soldiers and anti-personnel landmines.
Meanwhile, fighting in Myanmar’s troubled northern states has intensified in recent months, after the Tatmadaw launched their winter offensive. So far this year, indiscriminate air strikes on alleged KIA locations have killed at least five civilians.
Rich in precious jewels, Kachin state has long been in the crosshairs of cash-hungry generals and militiamen. According to an undercover investigation carried out in 2015 by UK-based NGO Global Witness, the gem trade was worth up to $31 billion in 2014 alone, equal to 48% of Myanmar’s official GDP at the time.
Today, the KIA controls large swathes of the state’s gold, amber, and jade reserves, which it has been mining for export. The Tatmadaw, however, has reclaimed control over some of the mines under the pretence of protecting the region from environmental degradation.
In June 2017, the state military flew helicopters over the KIA-controlled mining sites, dropping leaflets that demanded the workers leave immediately, and warned that those who remained would be considered accomplices to the rebels. Thousands fled to Tanai, a township struggling to serve the needs of a growing population of internally displaced peoples who have fled from nearby conflict zones.