New Kachin militia emerged

Tu Ja / June 5, 2020

KPSF official letterhead

A former member of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and a retired youth-pastor from the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) the Reverend Doi La formed a new Kachin millitia called Kachin Peace Special Force (KPSF) in Mongko Township in northern Shan State, representing a new addition to the system of militias operated by the Burma Army.

The Kachin Peace Special Force (KPSF) was established in the early of 2020 by Reverend Doi La after branching out from Naw Hkam led Mongko militia, according to a source familiar with the militias in northern Shan State.

Doi La ran afoul of the KIO in 2004 when he threw in with Lasang Awng Wa, then chief of the KIO’s Intelligence and National Security Department, to stage an unsuccessful bid for control of the KIO and its armed wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA). After the failed coup, both Doi La and Lasang Awng Wa fled to the Pang Wa area of Kachin State controlled by the National Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K), then a ceasefire group led by Zakhung Ting Ying.

Reverend Doi La kept a low profile until resurfacing in northern Shan State in 2016. According to a source in northern Shan State familiar with the situation, he joined a Burma Army-allied militia in Mongko led by Naw Hkam in 2016. Doi La assisted the Burma Army in responding to coordinated attacks on state security forces in several towns across northern Shan State. The attacks, which included fierce fighting in Mongko, were by the Northern Alliance, a coalition of ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) in 2016.

The KPSF operates in an area where the Burma Army and several ethnic armed organizations – the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and the KIA – have clashed with the Burma Army. Few details are available, but the source places KPSF’s membership at about 50 people.

Doi La joins several former KIO/KIA leaders who have led Burma Army-allied militias. After fleeing to NDA-K territory, Lasawng Awng Wa and his soldiers became a Burma Army-allied militia based in Gwihtu area of Kachin State in 2009. The NDA-K became a newly introduced type of militia, known as a Border Guard Force (BGF).

The presence of Burma Army-allied militias in Kachin State and northern Shan State dates back to the late 1960s, when the Burma Army first implemented its pyithusit, or “People’s War”, militia program. But other militia arrangements involving village defense forces go back to the 1950s, when units formed to counter threats posed by the Kuomintang and other armed groups pillaging the area.

The establishment of the KPSF comes during a period of increased scrutiny of militias in northern Shan State for their links to drug production and trafficking. In March, state security forces raided the Kawnghka militia’s offices in Kutkai Township on suspicion of drug manufacturing. The raid produced headlines in the media as reports indicate an enormous haul of illicit narcotics and weapons.

The Kawnghka group is another Burma Army-allied militia that has roots in the KIA. In 1990, Mahtu Naw, an officer in the KIA’s northern Shan State-based 4th Brigade, and its members broke away from the KIA and formed the Kachin Defense Army (KDA). Mahtu Naw quickly reached a ceasefire arrangement with the Burma Army. In 2009, the KDA succumbed to pressure by the Burma Army and transformed into a militia.

Information on the militia system is hard to come by given the scant detail revealed by the Burma Army about its operations. A reliable estimate of the number of militias operating across the country remains elusive, as do details about their armed strength and finances. Despite the headaches caused by the involvement of some militias in the drug trade, the recent formation of the KPSF points to the Burma Army’s continued use of militias to exercise influence over remote borderland areas.