Howitzer artillery shelling is being used on civilian territory surrounding the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) headquarters of Laiza, claim rebel sources.
Government army artillery battalions 364 and 370 under Artillery Operational Command have reportedly been firing 105 mm howitzers against KIA bases in northern Burma since last week.
“As they shell Kachin villages in KIA-controlled areas with howitzers every night, we wonder what happened to the peace process,” said La Nan, the main spokesperson for the KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).
He revealed that government troops have also been approaching areas close to the rebel’s Laiza stronghold where thousands of Kachin civilians are taking shelter. There is no sign that hostilities are coming to an end while peace talks between KIO leaders and the government peace delegation are also on hold.
La Nan said that the KIO’s last contact with Naypyidaw representatives was in July. Since then, fighting between the KIA and government army has escalated severely.
In late August, at least 50 government soldiers died in a large explosion caused by a mortar shell landing on a store containing explosive materials and fuel in the Shrawng Kha area of Hpakant Township.
Meanwhile, it was also reported that the government now bans all international aid to Kachin refugees in KIO-controlled areas.
Vivian Tan, the spokesperson for the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Asia, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that around 5,000 Kachin refugees have been forced back to war-torn Kachin State by the Chinese authorities since the middle of August.
“Some of them [returned Kachin refugees] said that they were asked to break down their shelters [in China]. And many had to walk for quite a long distance while some were sent by trucks,” she said.
“We appeal to the Chinese government to stop sending these groups back. In the meantime, we see too many insurgencies and instability in Kachin State. They should not be sent back from China.”
So far, the UNHCR has not been able to reach or assist Kachin refugees living along the Chinese side of the frontier despite repeatedly requesting permission from the Chinese authorities. However, a team has been able to travel via Burma to Lwe Je (Lwaigyai) by the border to provide aid and assess the needs of returnees.
The UNHCR has so far distributed relief items—including tarpaulin, blankets, mosquito nets, kitchen sets and basic toiletries—to 1,200 returnees in the four Internally Displaced Person camps in Lwe Je.
Due to hostilities between the KIA and government army that erupted in June last year, around 90,000 civilians have been displaced by fighting in Kachin and northern Shan states, report humanitarian agencies.