Naw Awn is an unassuming man whose placid air belies the fact that he is the mayor of a town virtually under siege. As Burmese military forces inch closer to Laiza every day, there is little about him to indicate that he fears the town could soon fall to an army that has repeatedly ignored government orders to stop fighting. Perhaps the only signs that he is not just another small-town mayor are the steel army helmet on his cluttered desk and the Kalashnikov assault rifle that leans casually against the wall behind him.
The Irrawaddy’s Steve Tickner spoke to Naw Awn last week, shortly before Naypyidaw declared a unilateral ceasefire on Friday that promptly broke down over the weekend. He expressed a quiet confidence in local residents’ ability to cope with the ongoing offensive, and seemed equally certain that the Burmese armed forces would ultimately fail in their efforts to break the spirit of the Kachin people.
Question: What effect has the recent and ongoing assault had on the township of Laiza?
Answer: Before Christmas we had heard news the Burmese army was preparing to attack Laiza and we started to hear the artillery around the 27th of December, but by now, after two years, we are used to war so really there isn’t too much effect or fear.
Q: What can you say about the incident on Monday morning [Jan. 14] when the first two shells fell in the center of the town, killing three residents?
A: This attack was the first time artillery shells had landed in the town itself, but we were prepared because the Burmese had warned they would do this.
Q: Do you have evacuation plans for the residents of the town?
A: We have educated the townspeople as to how to behave and stay safe, but if absolutely necessary we do have plans for evacuations to China.
For the large IDP population the situation is much the same. The KIO has established a committee to look after the needs of the IDP population.
The committee also organizes the distribution of various NGO donations. We have received only a small amount of international support, but most of all we want international support for our human rights situation.
Q: Do you have anything you would like to say to the international community?
A: Yes, I would like to say that the Kachin people will continue to resist injustice. The international community should be bringing much more pressure to bear on our situation. The EU has mentioned what is happening, but not our neighbor, China, as of yet.
Q: What do you think of the reform process being undertaken in Burma?
A: Although the world is pressing Burma for reform I don’t believe it is genuine. After 60 years of civil war, the “reform” process is not to be believed and the outside world is very foolish to believe it as well.
Q: What are your main concerns?
A: Laiza is the heart of the Kachin community. Its people are strong and stand solidly behind their front-line soldiers, supporting them with rations and prayers for their safety.
It is not only the army defending Laiza—the town’s entire administrative staff and I myself also visit the front line to help and support the soldiers.
The Burmese soldiers are fighting far from their homes and suffer low morale, but our people show a strong intent to defend our state.
I think the Burmese army likes to attack on days such as Christmas because they know the Kachin people gain strength from their Christian beliefs. They would like to destroy the morale of the Kachin people, but they will fail.