Three civilians dead in Myanmar attack on Kachin base
Kachin rebels on Monday said three civilians were killed and six wounded in the first attack by Myanmar forces on their northern stronghold, as fighting escalates in the country’s last active civil war.
Three shells landed in “the heart of Laiza” town, the Kachin Independence Army’s base near the Chinese border, early on Monday, said Colonel James Lum Dau, spokesman for the KIA’s political wing.
“This is the first time they have directly bombarded Laiza,” he said.
Lum Dau said the dead included a 15-year-old boy and a 76-year-old man.
The government was unable to be immediately reached for comment.
Witnesses in the town confirmed it had been directly hit. “I have seen two shells fall in the city, killing three civilian residents,” Kachin aid worker La Rip said.
“People are scared. At the moment it has stopped, but I’m afraid the shelling will continue, they are not targeting only military targets.”
La Rip, of the Relief Action Network for IDP (internally displaced persons) and Refugee, said people from the affected areas were taking shelter close to the border.
About 20,000 residents and 15,000 displaced people are thought to be in Laiza, he said, adding that there was “nowhere to go” except to China, which in August pushed several thousand refugees back into Myanmar.
An increase in fighting between the military and the KIA in recent weeks has overshadowed Myanmar’s wider political reforms and cast doubt on a peace process seen as key to the country’s emergence from decades of military rule.
The US and UN have condemned the army’s use of air strikes in the state since December.
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in Kachin since June 2011 when a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the KIA broke down. The total number of casualties is unknown.
Myanmar’s army and the rebels have traded claims over a helicopter crash last week which killed three army personnel. State media put the incident down to engine failure, rebutting KIA claims to have shot the craft down.
The intensification of the unrest in recent weeks is likely to further frustrate efforts to secure a peace deal in the region, observers have warned.
Myanmar has struck tentative ceasefires with most of the other major ethnic rebel groups, but several rounds of talks with the Kachin have shown little tangible progress.
The rebels accuse the government of pushing for a dialogue based only on a ceasefire and troop withdrawals and not addressing longstanding demands for greater political rights.
President Thein Sein defended the army’s response to the Kachin rebellion in comments reported in state media on Friday, saying the Tatmadaw – Myanmar’s army – had done everything possible “to make positive contributions to the peace process”.
Some experts have cast doubt over the level of control Thein Sein, a former general, exerts over army units in Kachin after an order to end military offensives in December 2011 was apparently ignored.