MYITKYINA, Kachin State — The Burma Army announced that yesterday’s deadly shelling of a rebel military academy was “unintentional,” speaking to reporters in Kachin State capital Myitkyina on Thursday.
Col. Than Aung, Minister of Border Security in Kachin State, said the Burma Army launched the artillery to “send a warning” after the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) allegedly attacked government troops while they were building a road near Mansi, which is about 70km south of where the shelling occurred.
The official said the Burma Army was unaware that officer training was in session at the academy and that the site was not their intended target.
“We feel very sorry for this loss of life, and we hope the peace process will not be affected,” he said.
La Nan, spokesperson for the KIA, denied the official’s claim that Kachin troops had attacked Burmese soldiers, adding that the Burma Army had not informed Kachin officials of the road construction.
“They are lying,” said La Nan.
Burmese troops launched several artillery missiles onto a military training academy near the KIA headquarters in Laiza shortly after noon on Wednesday. Twenty cadets were killed in the initial blast and three more have since succumbed to injuries. An additional 20 cadets are being treated for injuries in Laiza General Hospital.
The incident is believed to be the most deadly attack on Kachin troops since a 17-year ceasefire with the government broke down in mid-2011.
Wednesday’s attack, which La Nan referred to as “an ambush,” sent shockwaves through Burma’s ethnic communities, especially among their leadership. Local media reported that the government recently reaffirmed its commitment to securing a nationwide ceasefire agreement by the end of this year, though observers have questioned their confidence.
The KIA is one of only a few major ethnic armed groups that has not secured a bilateral ceasefire with the Burmese government. The KIO is currently engaged in peace negotiations with the government and is represented on the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), a 16-member ethnic bloc working toward a nationwide agreement.
Other members of the NCCT, most notably the group’s Vice Chairman Nai Hong Sar, have expressed concern that Wednesday’s attack “could greatly ruin trust-building” during an already fraught moment in the peace process.
Khun Oo Reh, General Secretary of the United Nationalities Federal Council—the nation’s most recent permutation of an ethnic coalition—refuted the military’s statement. Khun Oo Reh insisted that the act was “deliberate” and questioned why the government would undertake such a deadly attack just a week after global leaders wrapped up their visits to Burma, and days after announcing that constitutional amendment would not be implemented until after elections in late 2015.
“We believe that the attack was deliberate, and we wonder why they did it at this time,” said Khun Oo Reh, adding that the incident could become a serious obstacle on the course to securing lasting peace. “It is inappropriate to allow such a thing to happen while we are building trust.”