As War Intensifies, Tough Times for Kachin Women

Medics at a hospital in Laiza tend to Lamong Kailing, who was injured by the Burma Army shelling outside the town on Thursday. (Photo: Simon Roughneen / The Irrawaddy)

LAIZA, Kachin State—At a Kachin Independence Army (KIA) checkpoint three or so miles up a hill behind Laiza, the rebel group’s headquarters, 13 women share what looks like a cramped two-room quarters, taking turns to keep watch on traffic winding up and down the road to the town below.

Seng Mai, a 20-year-old from the government-run Kachin State capital, Myitkyina, joined the KIA three years ago, first working in the quartermaster department before moving to this checkpoint.

“It’s better here, I have more friends,” she says, laughing and waving off the banter from six colleagues sitting nearby.

With five brothers and one sister, Seng Mai was the sole member of her family to join the KIA.

Tensions are high in these hills, with the Burma Army deploying fighter jets and helicopter gunships to attack KIA positions on Friday and Saturday, 18 months into the renewed war in the northern region.

Seng Mai points up toward where Burma Army positions have shelled KIA outposts several miles away in recent weeks, and where they launched helicopter gunship strikes on Friday as fighter jets flew over Laiza and nearby refugee camps.

“When we hear the explosions, we head for the bunkers,” she says, pointing now to the rock face behind the checkpoint.

Lu Tawng’s story is somewhat different. Also 20 years old and from Putao, in the northernmost reaches of this northernmost region of Burma, she joined the KIA six years ago, serving first in the northern region of Kachin State before moving to Laiza to work in the militia’s propaganda unit.

The KIA and several other ethnic minority militias in the country have been accused in the past of recruiting child soldiers. The KIA says it takes in children who are younger than 18 from troubled families, educates them and trains them, but, as with female KIA members, does not send them to fight.

That stands in contrast to the Burma Army, which has sent child soldiers to the frontlines, including several who were captured by the KIA in recent months.

Now Lu Tawng works on duty at the all-female checkpoint, which looks out across a valley to mountains that are not in Burma, but China.

Most of the troops passing through the checkpoint are men.

“Sometimes the soldiers are stubborn,” she says, when asked if they show her disrespect.

For Kachin women who encounter the Burma Army, the outcome can be much worse.

In October 2011, Sumlut Roi Ja was arrested by Burma Army soldiers while farming near her village at Hkai Bang, close to the China border. Last spotted through binoculars by the KIA and family members inside a Burma Army camp soon after the abduction, she has not been seen since. She is now presumed dead after being held captive by a Burma Army unit.

In May 2012, a 48-year-old Kachin woman was gang-raped inside a church by Burmese soldiers near the fighting flashpoint around Pangwa.

And women are casualties of the war in Kachin in other ways. On Thursday, two women were injured—one severely—by Burma Army shelling near Lajayang, where the KIA and an allied rebel militia known as the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) have outposts and where the rebels overran a Burma Army position on Dec. 14.

Treating the wounded is a job for Mwi Hpu Lubu, a 20-year-old student nurse at Laiza’s hospital. Shyer than soldiers her age, she says interning at the hospital has shown her the sharp end of war.

“I have treated several people injured by shooting and bombing, people blown up by mines, soldiers all covered in blood,” she says.

In the past, the KIA has also been accused of funding its operations partly via opium cultivation, though the militia says it ended the practice and tries to destroy the crop when farmers grow it in rebel-held territory.

Drug abuse remains a serious problem in the region, Kachin officers say. At Myitkyina University, the KIA says 60-70 percent of students are drug addicts, with conspiratorial whispers of some dark Burmese military plot to destroy Kachin youth using drugs.

Burma is the world’s second-biggest opium source after Afghanistan, and although the government says it wants to eradicate this drug problem by 2014, rising demand from China has spurred an increase in growth throughout the country, with land given over to opium cultivation up 17 percent since 2011, according to the UN drugs unit.

In KIA-held territory, drug use seems common, despite warning posters with jeremiads on the walls of houses and offices all over Laiza.

Mto Doi Ra was caught taking methamphetamine and sent to the KIA drug rehabilitation center in Laiza.

“I’m not a regular user, I just wanted to have fun,” says the 30-year-old, speaking while a KIA official listens intently.

“We grow ginger and mustard here,” she says, discussing how the KIA puts the male and female inmates to work as part of their rehabilitation during their six-month stay at the facility.

She says she won’t take any drugs after finishing her term in three months.

“If I’m caught again, I might have to come back here for two years,” she says, grimacing.

Back at Laiza hospital, 28-year-old Kaw Mai looks understandably tired, but happy, while cradling her day-old baby.

“We don’t have a name for her yet,” she says, looking down at the infant swathed in a blue blanket, the folds tightly fastened with some string to protect against the nighttime winter cold.

Kaw Mai has spent the past 18 months in Wai Chyai camp, after fleeing a Burma Army advance on her home village, Mai Sat Pa, which is 45 minutes away by motorcycle on the Laiza-Myitkyina road.

“The child is doing well,” she says. “Just some crying at night, but otherwise OK.”

It will be tough to nurse a baby back at the camp, she says, after she leaves the hospital in four to five days. “Life has to go on as best we can,” she says with a shrug.

But for other women, personal lives are secondary to the Kachin cause.

“I want to spend at least three more years with the KIA before I try to get married,” says still-single soldier Seng Mai.

As for Lu Tawng, there are other sacrifices: She misses her family.

“In the six years since I joined the KIA, I have never gone back home once,” she says, smiling.

12 Responses to As War Intensifies, Tough Times for Kachin Women

  1. The wrath of the ethnic people is at peak. The assault on the Kachins has been felt by all of us. Thein Sein must not continue this horrible crime but stop immediately.

  2. Kachin women are as precious as Indian women. The world should recognize the Kachin women’s suffering from the brutality of than shwe and thein sein, particularly on women. Than shwe is the most cruel bama king who orders the raping reward for bama soldiers.

  3. Can anyone explain why the UN or the US and Euro reps can’t get a cease-fire agreement there? With all the reforms of 2012 this is just plain ignorance to blame on the leaders of both sides. Someone has to step in here and get this to stop. Credit to Irrawaddy journalists getting in the middle to document this.

    • This is easy.

      Life style and excesses of the “west” (average around one car for each citizen, two or more houses for some families, suing 30% of world resources by America -5% of world’s population- alone, etc.) are such that all countries are in debt led by the Americans mostly to China. The world economy itself is also so much dependent on cheap, unregulated, non-unionized labour like in China (soon to come somewhere near you!) so much so that any little sneeze China has will give the “west” headache.China emulating the Americans to spread its influence across the globe and Asia in particular and trying to take over Pacific and African countries for diplomatic and raw material exploitation needs Burma desperately. It will also directly improve Pan-Asian economy as well as the world’s economy by trade routes, raw materials dig ups and consumer goods dumping for which Burma is already daily primed by “exile” and inland media New Year” etc, etc, and ripe with large portion of public clamouring for their ex-pat relative’s life style electronic gadgets, fancy drinks, cars, flat screen TV, etc.

      So not just the Dam required for further energy needs of China but the rail and Pipes are even more important for China as well as global economy. This has to be seen in the knowledge that all the continents and lands and countries of the world this formula has been used before now have thoroughly destroyed land, poisoned water and polluted air and fractured and violent, disparate ghettoed urban societies in place of millennium old peaceful cohesive thriving societies. In short they have destroyed the rest of the globe already and the land of Burma is soon to go not really benefiting any one for any length of time but would give indulgence temporarily to some communities while most people would be left stranded high and dry joining the already lost world.

      In that shorted sighted evil mind set, it is more than likely that the American led “west’ would have given quiet green light to the military of which Thein Sein set up is simply a PR arm effectively and ably reinforced by Aung San Suu Kyi (Soros of Rothschilds’ confidante) in whom unfortunate Burmese populace have put their BLIND faith in.

      Even the very use of White Phosphorus could have been by direct advice of the Americans as themselves and the Israelis are the frequent and massive users of that merciless sunstance claiming the use of it as non-criminal act. They sure do not condemn the Burmese government for it. Come to think of it, not a single one did.

      Now Soros himself is trying to bribe the Kachin leadership. it may work. With his determination, skill and war chest. But the Kachin populace will never give in. The war will simply go underground and may become more wide spread. For evil is on one’s monopoly. Current use of all out military hardware though is only for psychological effect on both sides but Min Aung Hlaing will never be able to beat the Kachins and it does now appear the result is going to be other way round. Meanwhile the people suffer.

      Like in the movie “Elizabeth” when the advisor said to the Queen ” You take this in your mind so hard that when the time comes…”. Simply remember who are the good guys and who are the bad guys visible or not.

      Chinese are not alone. They have shooed the Burma animal into the gun path of the Americans.

    • The Irrawaddy is not reporting anything already reported elsewhere and easily available. Without this much report, they will lose their creditability quickly.

      They have been staunch supporters of this fake reform and the Thamada Gyi and Amay Suu both of whom are relentlessly leading the charge to open the whole country and manual labourers for International Business Exploitation, the very “Essence of Reform” and international clamour, this prize, that prize, etc. Where is the food for the millions? Especially after driving the food producers off their land – with force and White Phosphorus, which by the way is still going on in case people moved on to more exciting carnage.

  4. In this latest display of the deteriorating level of human decency and morality around the world, and in Burma in particular, and testament to the rise of selfishness (Utta), undeterred greed (Lawba) and disregard for justice (Ah-dammha), the most blatant military aggression of state military apparatus helped by international communities- Americans hand in hand with Chinese, Russians/ Belarusians and Indians, is currently on display conducting virulent and violent killing missions onto defenceless civilian population who only a short 2 years ago were doing nothing more aggressive than tending their own ancestral land for food productions and raising their young s in cohesive, peaceful communities.
    Thein Sein fronted Than Shwe Sit-tut doing this sort of most horrible, criminal, despicable depraved, sadistic and lunatic acts is well expected.
    So, by now, is the total silence and tacit collusion/ approval/ support by Aung San Suu Kyi and her Single Woman Party of People’s Treachery ( Party by the people, of the people and for Thein Sein) and 88′s and others as well as ever loyal “exile” and “free” inland “Media”.
    But total lack of right outrage by the American gagged international communities and (do-gooder sounding) organizations and usually vocal academics and observers is worrying as this may well herald acceptance and normalization in International Arena anywhere of Absolute Rule of the Jungle because this current display of bullying and unjust violent aggression for “business” interest is just that. Rule of the Jungle where the strong beats up the weak for food/ loot/ resource/ land/ minerals/ anything with no civilization ( at least not decent one) to stand for the justice.
    Worse than for the Kachin’s current predicament, this is bad omen for Burma and bad omen for the world. Peaceful, never will be.
    Once this Law of the Jungle is accepted as norm, YOU will be next and what do you think people would do then?
    As now, NOTHING.
    Then again there is this likelihood that Min Aung Hlaing would again keep his usual signature bumbling defeat after this spectacular but ineffective display of photogenic attacks as in the last two years when tens of thousands of Burmese youths ended up as fertilizer in the jungle. ( Should we call those boats coming up stream, “Live Fertilizer Boats”?)
    The likely defeat this time sure will spell the end for himself AND his mentor or appointer/s and therefore current apparatus of “Bamar Reform Government” pantomime show. But what happens to his current silent and open supporters, nationally and internationally, then even though they sure will shamelessly change their tune?
    So may be some in the international communities and even the Bamar national figures (real or imaginary) should make appropriate usual half-hearted noises just in case…

  5. I don’t like war. Please give empathy and sympathy on soldiers and theither family. So leaders from both sides reconsider this situation .

  6. KIA/KIO are terrorists. They explode local trains and electrical cable towers, even they kill innocent Kachin, Shan, Bama people. They look like Talibans and Osmabinlardin.

  7. KIA/KIO are not terrorist. Military Government and alliances are terrorists. They are killing and oppressing ethnic minorities and other religions
    for years.This must be stop now. Burmese people don’t know what is democracy eventhough they said they want democracy.Reality is they want to be rich by anymean justice or injustice. This is what the military dictatorship wanted the spirit of the Burmese people who are now carrying this shameful attitude and spirit without knowingly. So sad.

  8. 🙂 Hello Irrawaddy
    This girl was raped by KIA near Nant Yan San Church on Second Week Jan 2013.And she was sent to Myit Kyi Naa General Hospital.
    Why you put wrong article about her case ?
    Did you need any further info: ? Connect to Myit Kyi Na General Hospital. Okey ?
    Don’t find dollars with fade news.
    For Your Media,No mercy from Myanmar.

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