Govt Troops Move Closer to Laiza, as Planes Pound Targets

By Lawi Weng 7 January 2013

RANGOON — Burmese government troops have begun a push to seize a Kachin Independence Army (KIA) outpost located just west of the group’s headquarters at Laiza, a day after Laiza itself reportedly came under artillery attack.

The new offensive, which targets a KIA position on a hill called Hpun Pyan Bum, began at noon today, according to Min Htay, a major serving in the All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF), an ally of the KIA.

“We are still fighting. We don’t know yet how many people have been injured as the fighting hasn’t stopped yet,” said Min Htay, speaking to The Irrawaddy by phone from Laiza.

Other sources reported at around 5:30 pm local time that three aircraft had begun pounding targets on the front line near Laiza. No further details of the aerial attacks were available as of 6 pm.

According to Min Htay, the Burmese army fired eight 105-mm artillery shells at Laiza at around 9 am on Sunday. The government has denied this claim, but local sources say there has been a significant buildup of Burmese troops in the area since airstrikes last week cleared the way for an advance on the KIA stronghold.

On Friday, one ABSDF soldier was killed while attempting to ambush government troops who were setting up artillery guns at a captured KIA outpost on a hill simply called “771,” according to Min Htay. He added that at least three KIA troops were also killed in the failed attempt to retake the outpost.

The latest escalation of the year-and-a-half-old conflict in Kachin State has created a tense atmosphere in Laiza, where the streets are quiet and some shops have closed, according to  residents of the town. The KIA has ordered a high alert, and some residents have even begun to build bunkers, said local sources.

Schools have also been closed since the recent attacks began, and the KIA has used a local television station to tell civilians which road to use to flee the area in the event of aerial bombardment.

There are four refugee camps in and around Laiza, housing at least 15,000 people. Many in the camps have begun to express a strong fear of air attacks, the threat of which has already driven many local businessmen to abandon the town.

The fighting between the KIA and government forces began in June 2011 after the collapse of a 17-year-old ceasefire. Repeated attempts to negotiate an end to the conflict have all ended in failure.

Other groups have urged the government to renew its efforts to stop the fighting. On Monday, Mya Aye of the 88 Generation Students group said the government should show a strong commitment to political talks in order to build trust with the Kachin.

“The government cannot solve the ethnic problem using force,” he said. “If the army captures the KIA headquarters, it will only create more ill will among Burma’s ethnic peoples.”

Zen Myat contributed reporting.