Govt, KIO Agree to Meet, as Conflict Claims More Civilian Victims

By The Irrawaddy 30 January 2013

Two more civilians were killed by shelling in Kachin State on Tuesday, the same day that negotiators from both sides in the ongoing conflict in northern Burma agreed to hold informal talks in Panghsang, the headquarters of the United Wa State Army (UWSA).

Aung Myint, a spokesperson for the UWSA, confirmed on Wednesday that leaders of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) had accepted an offer from government peace negotiators to meet in the Wa stronghold, located in Shan State near Burma’s border with China.

Asked for comment, James Lum Dau, the KIO’s deputy chief of foreign affairs, said that he had heard about the meeting plan, but couldn’t confirm when or where it would take place.

It will be the first time that the two sides have met since the Burmese government army intensified its offensive against the KIO’s armed wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), in the final week of last year. Their most recent meeting took place in Ruili, China, last October.

The news comes amid reports that shelling near the Kachin State capital Myitkyina claimed the lives of two Kachin civilians and injured three others late Tuesday.

Sources in Myitkyina said that the village of Mayang, in Mokaung Township, came under heavy artillery fire starting at around 7 pm on Tuesday.

“The shelling lasted about an hour and the mother of two children and her eight-year-old son were killed as they were preparing to take shelter in a bunker. Her husband and baby were also injured,” said Bauk Ja, an MP from the National Democratic Force political party.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a source in Mayang said that Burmese army artillery battalion 371 fired a total of 11 60- and 120-mm shells at the village, killing 27-year-old Jangmaw Labram Lu and her son Gam Maw, 8.

Labram Lu’s husband, 35-year-old Jangmaw Awng Nu, and two-year-old son La San were also injured, as was her 95-year-old father-in-law Jangmaw La Doi.

This is the second reported case so far this month of civilians falling victim to Burmese army shelling. On Jan. 14, three people were killed and several others injured when an artillery shell landed in a residential area on the outskirts of Laiza, where the KIO has its headquarters.

More than 100,000 civilians have been displaced by the conflict in Kachin State since it began in June 2011. Many of them have taken shelter in camps set up by the KIO around Laiza.

Since the end of last year, the Burmese military has made Laiza the focus of its intensifying offensive against the Kachin rebels, using airstrikes to take control of key positions near the KIA stronghold.

The KIA is the second largest ethnic armed group in Burma with an estimated 15,000 fighters.