LAIZA, KACHIN STATE—Two artillery strikes by the Burmese government army hit Laiza town on Monday morning and exploded in a civilian area where Kachin villagers were sitting around a fire. According to initial reports, at least three people, including a teenager, were killed in the strike, while another four were injured.
Around 8 am Monday, this reporter heard incoming artillery fire and saw a strike hit a group of villagers who were warming themselves around a fire in the center of town. As the 105-mm howitzer grenade exploded they were tossed through the air and pierced with shrapnel. The second strike hit another house nearby, where several villagers were injured.
Villagers and Kachin rebel soldiers ran towards the victims, who were lying amid pools of blood, their bodies covered with ash and dust from the blast. One man was instantly killed in the strike, while a teenager and one adult reportedly died later at the local hospital. Four other villagers, including a toddler, were seriously injured.
After the strike fear gripped the town, and on Monday morning many of the Kachin villagers talked about leaving Laiza and crossing into China to escape further attacks by the Burmese government.
More than 15,000 internally displaced persons had fled their villages several months ago to seek refuge in Laiza, a small town on the Burma-China border where the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has its headquarters. About 20,000 residents are also believed to be living in the town.
Monday’s attack seems to indicate that the Burmese army is increasingly prepared to use heavy firepower near the Kachin rebel headquarters, despite the presence of thousands of villagers.
Authorities in neighboring Yunnan Province, in China, announced on Sunday that they were preparing for an influx of Kachin refugees due to the increase in the fighting, Chinese media reported.
Dehong Dai and Jingpo Autonomous Prefecture authorities told the Global Times that they had prepared four camps with emergency supplies near Nabang town, which could receive about 10,000 refugees.
Laiza and Nabang are two small Kachin towns separated by a river, which demarcates the border between Burma and China.
The Global Times reported that all trade between the towns had come to a halt due to the fighting and it quoted a local trader who said that “All business people from Nabang have run away” from Laiza.
In recent weeks, fighting in Burma’s northern Kachin State has intensified and the government has launched frequent airstrikes on KIA positions using fighter jets and helicopters, in an attempt to gain control of the strategically important mountains around Laiza valley.
On Friday, Kachin rebels claimed they shot down one of the army’s Russian-made Mi-35 helicopter gunships. The government confirmed that the helicopter had crashed but said the accident had occurred due to engine failure. Three soldiers on board were reportedly killed.
Following the crash, Kachin rebels feared the government might prepare heavy, retaliatory strikes.