The Burmese army has deployed military helicopters and jet fighters in a series of coordinated air attacks against Kachin rebels less than 16 kilometres away from their headquarters in Laiza, local sources say.
Fierce fighting raged throughout Friday in the strategic Lajayang region as government forces stepped up their military assault on the isolated Kachin Independence Army (KIA) stronghold, squeezed against the Chinese border in northeastern Burma.
Rebels are reported to have ignored a government ultimatum to stop blocking a vital army route near Lajayang by Tuesday or face violent retribution. By Thursday morning, local villages came under heavy artillery fire, killing one civilian and injuring four others.
According to rebel sources, government forces have been advancing on Laiza by air, road and river, and have even used Chinese airspace to target attacks. All-Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF) member Aung Swe Oo, who is fighting alongside the KIA near Laiza, told DVB that the government has been sending reinforcements by boat along the Irrawaddy river.
“Two tanks have been seen about 3 miles from our position and about 20 boats coming up the Irrawaddy River as well as 30 trucks coming from Bhamo. They have been firing 105mm artillery rounds at our outposts every 15-20 minutes.”
He said more Burmese troops have been gathering in Dawhpumyang sub-township, near Laiza, and are pushing northwards to the KIA stronghold.
ABSDF spokesperson Min Htay added that Burmese troops are also advancing southwards to Laiza along the road from state capital Myitkyina. He told DVB they pushed through the crucial Kum Shawng post on Thursday morning with the help of attack-helicopters.
“[Burmese forces] launched an assault on Kum Shawng post, close to [the KIA-run] Mali hydropower plant. They were attacking with helicopters so the [rebels] had to withdraw. The power plant was damaged in the fight so it can no longer provide electricity to Myitkyina and Waingmaw,” said Min Htay.
Although Laiza is strategically positioned, the rebels are poorly prepared for a full-scale aerial assault. Thousands of refugees taking shelter near Laiza have been warned against venturing out from their camps – some of which are within shelling distance of Burmese artillery.
“We asked them to make trenches to avoid being hit if the Burmese army shelled again or fired from military helicopters,” Doi Pyi Sa, the head of the Kachin Independence Organization’s Refugees Relief Committee, told RFA.
Kachin civilians are trapped between violent clashes and the unfriendly Chinese border, where authorities have made clear they are not welcome. In June, the Chinese government forcibly repatriated some 10,000 Kachin refugees, who had fled into their territory.
The KIA has been locked in a bloody battle with government troops since a 17-year ceasefire broke down in June last year. Over 75,000 civilians have been displaced and numerous attempts at peace-talks have failed. The government maintains that it is only acting in self-defence.