Burma Army Airstrikes Bombard Kachin, Shan States

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint & Nang Seng Nom 19 May 2016

RANGOON — Burma Army airstrikes were reported in Kachin and Shan states on Wednesday, forcing villagers to flee their homes as the government forces’ fighting with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) heats up.

No casualties have been reported yet in Kachin State, but the residents of Maji Gung Kaba, Bum Ja and Jay Seng villages have fled their homes. The affected villages are located between the Mai Hkawn and Man Wing Gyi camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) who fled fighting between the KIA and the Burma Army in 2015.

“The helicopters came around 3:15 pm [on Wednesday] and started bombing,” said Nann Zein Laja, a spokesman for the Zinlum Foundation, a local organization supporting IDPs in Mansi Township’s Mai Hkawn camp, an area in Kachin State under the control of KIA Brigade No. 3.

“[The Burma Army helicopters] were shooting everywhere,” said Rein Mao of the Kachin Baptist Convention, who is living in Bum Ja village. “This wasn’t a normal military engagement between the KIA and the Burma Army.”

Fighting between the Burma Army and the KIA reignited May 14 in the KIA-controlled area, with a Chinese logger reportedly killed in a Burma Army airstrike.

“[The Burma Army] didn’t shoot at KIA outposts,” said Lt-Col Naw Bu, a spokesperson for the KIA. “They only attacked civilians.”

“If the fighting breaks out again, civilians could be in danger of being tortured,” said Aung Myo San, the coordinator of a local civilian protection committee, “And there are Burma Army troops in the middle of the village, so it would be dangerous for the villagers if [both armies] start shooting at each other.”

The fighting in Shan State this week, however, was a direct military-on-military conflict.

Two Burma Army battalions and two militia groups joined forces to attack an SSA-N outpost outside Pein Hsai village, near Hsipaw Township, Shan State, on Wednesday, according to Maj. Sai Hsu, spokesperson for the SSA-N.

He said he did not understand why the attacks had intensified despite the fact that the SSA-N had held talks with a tactical commander from the Burma Army on the de-escalation of military tensions between the two sides on May 12.

“[The Burma Army] attacked our temporary military outpost with four choppers [Wednesday],” the SSA-N major said. “They wouldn’t use helicopters if they weren’t fighting a large-scale war. They were bullying us.”

He alleged that the Burma Army has been sending reinforcements to a village near the SSA-N outpost, meaning the fighting might escalate.

In Shan State, too, civilians have been caught in the crossfire.

“Yes, clashes did happen close to our village. We saw two helicopters flying. The villagers are in a panic, and all the shops are closed,” Sai Hla Htwe, a resident of a Shan village near the SSA-N outpost, told The Irrawaddy.

Two days prior to Wednesday’s fighting, the Burma Army had told farmers who were working fields outside the village to move back home, he said.

The most recent clash has forced locals to seek refuge in the larger towns of Hsipaw and Lashio. On May 12, fighting between the Burma military and the SSA-N forced approximately 500 locals from their homes.

Neither the Burma Army nor the Union Joint Monitoring Committee, a ceasefire watchdog, responded to requests for comment.

Neither the KIA nor the SSA-N were among signatories to the so-called nationwide ceasefire agreement signed by the government and eight non-state armed groups last year.