Two Kachin civilians were killed and another three were wounded by 81mm mortar shells when Burmese government troops based in Hpakant Township attacked the village of Maw Mau Bum with artillery fire earlier this week, according to Kachin sources.
Two soldiers from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) were also killed during the assault which happened at approximately 10pm on Wednesday night. The dead were reportedly buried on Thursday morning in the village.
Hpakant resident Hla San told The Irrawaddy on Friday that government troops shelled Maw Mau Bum continuously on Tuesday and Wednesday nights from Hpakant without direct confrontation with KIA soldiers. On Wednesday night, they launched at least 15 rounds of mortar at the village, which is some 3km from Hpakant.
Following the incident, hundreds of Maw Mau Bum villagers have returned to government-run refugee camps nearby. A source at one of the camps said that the Maw Mau Bum villagers had only just left the camps two weeks ago to go home, believing their village to be safe.
“We officially have 3,789 refugees at 29 camps,” said Hla San, a volunteer at one of the refugee camps in western Kachin State. “But that number must now be closer to 5,000 after so many people arrived on Thursday.”
The deaths come at a time when the KIO has just agreed to return to the negotiating table with a delegation from Naypyidaw. On Sept. 13, a similar incident occurred when a 14-year-old schoolgirl was killed by Burmese army artillery fire. It is unknown whether this most recent killing will affect the proposed meeting.
Hpakant Township is a strategic base for both sides in the conflict. It has the largest deposits of jade in the entire country—a product that is in huge demand in neighboring China and around the world.
After fighting broke out last year in Kachin State, more than 100 jade mining companies were forced to suspend operations. The current fight for Hpakant has prompted some observers to refer to the situation as the “jade war.”
But while Hpakant has changed hands and the fighting has intensified, thousands of miners, workers, business owners and civilians have fled the area. Many have reportedly moved to Mandalay while others have taken refuge at camps either inside Kachin State or on the Chinese side of the border.
KIA troops have tightened security along the roads from state capital Myitkyina to Hpakant Township. A local journalist told The Irrawaddy that several people had been questioned and detained at KIA checkpoints, suspected of being informers for the Burmese authorities.
Meanwhile, Dwe Bu, an ethnic Kachin MP in Burma’s Lower House, has requested a US delegation to help save civilian lives by putting pressure on the Burmese government to end fighting in northern Burma. At a meeting with the US delegation in Naypyidaw on Thursday morning, Daw Bu said that many more civilians will be killed if the fighting does not stop.