Kachin Villagers Recall Terror of Laiza Shelling

By Steve Tickner 16 January 2013

LAIZA, KACHIN STATE—Sau Nam sits on an old bed in Laiza’s small, rudimentary hospital, holding her two-year-old son Jang Ma Bawk San tight. Since Monday she has not let him out of her sight, after both of them nearly lost their lives that day.

Still in a slight state of shock from the event, Sau Nam quietly recalls how they and an older couple were warming themselves around a fire in the morning cold when a Burmese government artillery strike on Laiza town took them by surprise.

“I heard a whooshing sound of an incoming shell, grabbed my child and threw myself to the ground. Then there was a large explosion and a lot of smoke and dust,” she said. “When I tried to stand up I felt great pain in my left foot; a big piece of flesh was missing. I was bleeding a lot and couldn’t walk.”

“My child was also bleeding a lot from an injury above his right eye, but I was very relieved to see he was not too seriously injured,” Sam Nau, 38, said, adding that she later discovered that shrapnel also hit her left thigh.

The couple had not been so lucky. “Other people ran to help us, and I saw that the man who had been standing was now lying on the ground with a terrible injury to his stomach,” she said. “Then another explosion happened a very short distance away and everyone became very panicked”

Nhkum Bawk Naw, a man his 50s, who was standing around the fire at the time of the explosion, was fatally injured. His wife Nang Zing Roi Ji sustained severe shrapnel wounds to her back.

The second of the shells—both of which were fired into Laiza’s central Phar Kyan Kyawt quarter shortly after 8 am—exploded near a home, killing elderly church deacon Malang Yaw Htung and a 15-year-old boy named Hpauyu Doi San Awn. A 10-year-old girl Langjaw Nu Jai was seriously injured in her lower body.

Nang Zing Roi Ji and the girl were brought to Mangshe hospital in China for further treatment on Tuesday. Phar Kyan Kyawt quarter was quickly evacuated and on Monday night the Burmese army fired two more artillery rounds into the area, but no one was injured.

Sau Nam and her son, and some of the other victims are among some 15,000 internally displaced Kachin villagers who came to Laiza in recent months to escape the violence. Another 20,000 local residents are sheltering in their homes.

Sau Nam said she abandoned her farm in Na Lung, a village about 25 kilometers southwest of Laiza.

“My village is now occupied by the Burmese army, but my husband stayed there to look after our livestock. I am very worried about him because I do not trust the Burmese army soldiers who now hold the village. I fear they may kill him,” she said, looking weary after her tribulations.

Fighting between the Burmese army and the Kachin Independence Army has engulfed the region since a cease-fire broke down in June 2011 and in recent weeks it has drawn closer to Laiza, terrifying residents and displaced villagers.

According to aid groups, food, water and medicine are in short supply in the town, which is located in a valley on the Burma-China border near the KIA’s headquarters.

On Wednesday Laiza was calm, but many villagers were preparing to leave out of fear that indiscriminate shelling will worsen. Most are heading north to other displaced villagers’ camps located along the Chinese border.

“We hear every day that the Burmese troops are making a serious offensive and coming closer and closer to Laiza,” said Sam Nau, adding that after her brush with death she is determined to leave with her son, despite her injuries.

“I dare not stay in Laiza now, even though I know I can no longer feel my injured foot because of nerve damage and walking is almost impossible,” she says.