Images show scorched earth in Kachin war

Images have emerged that show further evidence of the Burmese army’s maligned scorched earth policy being used just days ago in Kachin state, despite calls from the president for an end to fighting and a visit to the region by UN officials.

The images were taken on Friday last week by photographer Ryan Libre, who had accompanied Kachin Independence Army (KIA) troops on a patrol near to a volatile stretch of the highway connecting Myitkyina to Bhamo.

At least two houses had been burned hours before the patrol arrived at Thingahyang village, which lies around 40 kilometres northeast of Bhamo; embers were still glowing, and most of the inhabitants of the village had fled. One man who returned briefly to check on his belongings told the patrol that retreating Burmese soldiers were attacked by KIA troops near the village.

“[The Burmese battalion] came to deliver supplies to [a nearby] outpost when they encountered the KIA. Upon retreating slowly, they shot up the church in our village … and set two houses on fire” he told Libre in an interview obtained by DVB.

“They were firing their guns constantly as they retreated past the village but there were no KIA [soldiers] chasing them down into the village. They [Burmese troops] were just being unruly.”


A soldier from the Kachin Independence Army stands in front
of a razed house in Thingahyang village (Ryan Libre / DAA)

Conflict between the KIA and Burmese troops has continued in spite of an order by President Thein Sein a week ago not to launch any attacks on Kachin rebels. The fighting has displaced around 40,000 people since it began in June, many of whom have fled to Laiza where the KIA and local groups have struggled to cope with the burden.

The government last week gave permission for UN teams to visit Laiza with supplies for the refugees, following a five-month ban on any international NGOs accessing rebel-controlled territory.

But the promising signs do not translate to the reality on the ground in the northern state, which has witnessed incidents such as gang-rapes of ethnic women by Burmese soldiers that clearly flout the laws of war. Indiscriminate firing into Thingahyang village continues a trend of deliberate attacks on civilians that has been widely documented by rights groups since fighting began.

An official from the KIA told a DVB source recently that Burmese troops had “burned down all houses” in Daw Hpum Yang and Ding Ga villages, also along the highway which is used by the Burmese to ferry supplies from bases in Myitkyina to the Bhamo frontline.

The incident on Friday follows a similar attack in November on the village of Aungja, where around 50 houses were razed. In October, houses in Namsan Yang village were also levelled.

The scorched earth policy is part of the army’s Four Cuts strategy, which looks to sever lines of support and communication for Burma’s various ethnic armed groups. Many depend on support, including food and surveillance, from local populations.

The attack on the Thingahyang church will also fuel accusations that the Burmese army is waging religious persecution against the predominantly Christian Kachin minority. During the Aungja assault, troops attacked a local pastor and his pregnant wife, who was hospitalised.

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