Fierce fighting continues to rage in northern Burma’s Kachin state despite President Thein Sein’s announcement on Sunday that the government has no plan to capture the rebel stronghold in Laiza.
A resident in Laiza told DVB that government forces were still attacking the Kachin Independence Army (KIA)’s outpost on Hkaya Bum Hill yesterday, which is about five miles from Laiza.
“There was shooting at Hkaya Bum around 6am this morning [21 Jan] – we heard gunshots. There is a [KIA] outpost providing security for [Laiza],” said the resident.
According to another source on the ground, government forces fired off sporadic artillery and mortar fire targeting Hkaya Bum Hill yesterday before later repositioning around the outpost to initiate a ground assault to cut the road from Hkaya to Laiza.
Colonel Yaw Hton, a KIA spokesperson, confirmed that fighting was taking place near Hkaya Bum Hill yesterday morning.
“There is a fight taking place in Hkaya Bum – about six kilometres away from Lajayang. We also heard that [government forces] captured our brigade 6 [territory] in Hpakant,” said Yaw Hton.
As of yesterday, government forces were unable to take the hill outpost that is “one of the last lines of defense of Laiza”, reported the Free Burma Rangers (FBR).
According to a report published by FBR today, the Burmese military also torched houses in a village 9km west of Lajayang.
“The Burma Army began burning houses in Na Long, a village of approximately 100 houses,” read the report, which was published on the organisation’s website.
“It is unknown whether any of Na Long’s residents were still in the village.”
Hkon Ja from the Rangoon-based Kachin Peace Network said despite Thein Sein’s announcement, government forces continued to push for Laiza on Monday, while deploying more troops to the area.
“U Thein Sein in his meeting with civil society groups, including two Kachins, said the government won’t capture Laiza although it is capable of doing so because they want peace,” said Hkon Ja.
“But that doesn’t seem like the case here – they’ve been attacking Hkaya Bum fiercely and also surrounding areas as of 10:30am [Monday] morning with heavy artillery.”
Meanwhile, locals in Mansi, Shwegu, Hpakant and Pangwa districts have also reported that skirmishes are taking place between government forces and the KIA.
Local NGOs have expressed concerned over the 20,000 residents and refugees trapped in Laiza, which reportedly lacks a sufficient number of bomb shelters for its remaining inhabitants. Residents have also said Chinese authorities are turning back refugees who are trying to cross the border.
The government on 18 January announced that the military would unilaterally stop fighting in the KIA’s Lajayang territory; however, reports of ground offensives and artillery strikes targeting rebel positions continued to surface over the weekend.
There have been no confirmed reports if the Burmese military had reconvened their attacks on KIA positions today.
On 19 January, the government’s Peace Making Work Committee invited the KIA to resume peace talks, but the rebel army rejected the request and demanded that the government negotiators speak to to the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) – an umbrella organization made up of 11 ethnic militias including the KIA.
Earlier this month, the UNFC released a statement notifying the government that the group would be the ‘sole negotiation body’ to represent their members during future ceasefire or peace talks.
Government troops and the KIA have been locked in bitter fighting for the past year and a half after a 17-year ceasefire crumbled in June 2011. After several holding rounds of talks between the KIA and the government, no deal has surfaced to end the fighting as the rebels continue to insist on a government guarantee to address the political issues that have led to the conflict.