Fighting in Northeast Picks Up at Year’s End

By Nyein Nyein 26 December 2017

YANGON — Reports of deaths and injuries from artillery attacks and landmine blasts in Kachin and Shan states picked up during the past week and included three children.

On Christmas Eve, a teacher was injured in the neck and had her jaw and teeth shattered from shelling by the Tatmadaw (Myanmar Army) on Woi Chyai village, near Laiza, the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).

Laphai Kai Nan, 29, a volunteer teacher at the Munglai Hkyet camp for internally displaced people (IDP), was hit while walking home from the camp. “She is currently at the Laiza hospital and we heard that she will soon be transferred to the Man Shi hospital in China,” said Lamai Mai Mai, an ethnic Kachin activist.

KIO spokesman Colonel Naw Bu said the Tatmadaw was shelling near Laiza even though there was no fighting along the frontlines over the weekend. He told The Irrawaddy on Sunday that the attack, which came at about 9 p.m., was timed intentionally for Christmas Eve but said celebrations went ahead regardless. The Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the armed wing of KIO, faced a similar attack in 2012.

Those in the IDP camp “were extremely terrified and very anxious throughout the night and packed their belongings to be ready to flee at any moment,” according to a Christmas Day statement from the Joint Strategy Team, a group of local civil society groups.

The Tatmadaw had also fired a few shells near the camp, which hosts about 6,000 IDPs, on Dec. 14.

Fighting between the KIA and Tatmadaw has continued in Bamao, Mansi, Moemauk and Tanai townships in Kachin State and in Namkham, Muse and Mang Ton townships in northern Shan State.

But the recent attacks were more akin to “blind firing and planting landmines with no disciplines,” said Lamai Mai Mai. “If they had followed the rules of war, we would have fewer civilian fatalities.”

U Maung Maung Soe, a political and ethnic affairs analyst, said it showed that the government’s efforts to build peace and the Tatmadaw’s tactics were “not harmonious.”

The government has said it wanted to see peace in 2017. Instead, the fighting has intensified. The ethnic armed groups of the country’s northeast have also acquired more arms and fighters over the year than ever before, according to data by the independent Myanmar Peace Monitor.

In November, the joint forces of the KIA, TNLA, AA and MNDAA — the four members of the Northern Alliance at the time — launched an attack near the Muse trading zone and took control of a part of Mongko Township for about a week. The Tatmadaw retaliated with its air force, destroying a church and several homes.

“Clashes will not be avoided as long as there is no ceasefire because in Myanmar politics every armed group believes it needs arms to reach its goal, and as long as they cannot change their thinking military engagement is unavoidable. So we have to think of a way to find a solution,” said U Maung Maung Soe.

Each side has accused the other of attacking civilians.

On Dec. 23, a 12-year-old boy died from injuries to his abdomen after artillery shells fell on Maiyu village in Muse, northern Shan State. The artillery fire also injured three others — two men and a 3-year-old boy who lost his right leg.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, the Ministry of Home Affairs said an unidentified ethnic armed group launched the artillery attack on an area where the ethnic Shan Lon Htan militia was conducting security operations. It said the group also attacked an area about 5 miles south of Nant Phat Kar village, also in Muse.

The office of the commander-in-chief blamed the attacks on the KIA and TNLA. Both groups have denied the accusation.

Northern Shan State is home to several armed forces, including the Tatmadaw, TNLA, KIA and local militias.

Also on the 23rd, a man was injured by a landmine in Wara Zut village, Hpakant Township, in Kachin State. The Tatmadaw accused the KIA of planting the mine.

On Dec. 19, in Shan State, a primary school student died in Mong Paw Township and four others were hospitalized in Muse in landmine blasts the military blamed on the KIA and TNLA.

U Maung Maung Soe said the source of the shelling at least should not be a mystery.

“Whoever fired the artillery can be found out by a study of the shell fragments, especially in the case of Maiyu in Muse, but the government has not done anything about it,” he said.