Fighting near the Laiza headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has intensified overnight following warnings yesterday that Burmese troops were closing in on the group’s stronghold on the China border.
Yesterday evening a volley of artillery was fired at a hill around a mile from Laiza where a KIA battalion is based. Reports earlier on Thursday said that a column of Burmese soldiers had reached a village some four miles from the headquarters, but that distance now appears to have lessened.
Sources in Laiza told DVB that around 20 shells were fired in a 10-minute burst beginning just after 8pm yesterday, and continued into the night. Locals are said to be preparing makeshift bomb shelters, reportedly following a warning from Chinese officials to families living along the border that air strikes by the Burmese army may be on the cards.
A Laiza resident said that people “have already begun to flee or are preparing to flee [the town] in case the shells land there”.
Another bridge along the highway connecting the Kachin state capital of Myitkyina to Bhamo, where the KIA has a strong presence, was blown yesterday, the latest in a series of attacks on key infrastructure across Kachin state since fighting began in early June.
“The bridge outside Gadaryang [village] was blown up with mines at midnight, completely stopping transportation between Bhamo, Myitkyina and Laiza,” an eye-witness said.
It is unclear who was behind the attack, but both sides have carried out similar acts aimed at thwarting supply routes and hemming troops in.
Intense clashes have erupted across areas of Kachin state over the past two months, forcing thousands of refugees to Laiza and into China. Refusals from a multitude of armed ethnic groups to become government-controlled Border Guard Forces have led to parts of Burma’s northern and eastern border regions being engulfed in violence.
The Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand (KWAT) issued a statement on 19 July saying that a humanitarian crisis was looming for the 16,000 refugees sheltering in makeshift camps along the China-Burma border, who are “urgently in need of aid”.