Three civilians have been killed and another six injured — four seriously — after Burmese troops launched a series of mortar attacks into the heart of the Kachin rebel stronghold in Laiza on Monday morning.
It is the first civilian casualties reported in central Laiza since government forces stepped up its offensive against the rebel base last month.
Local sources say two mortar attacks hit a residential area early on Monday, killing three people, including a 15-year-old boy. A two-year-old is reported to be among the seriously injured.
Relief Action Network for IDPs and Refugees spokesperson La Rip told DVB that “terrified” locals have gathered near the Chinese borderline, while others are hiding out in bunkers.
“The people at the house [struck by the first bomb] also had a bunker, but this morning they had gathered outside in front of the fire, and the bomb hit unexpectedly,” said La Rip.
He said that Malang Yaw Htung, a 65-year old clergyman, was running for his life when the second bomb struck.
“When the [first] bomb fell near his house, he dragged his sister to a bunker and escaped to find shelter for himself,” said La Rip. “But on the way another bomb fell and he died instantly.”
The other two victims have been identified as 38-year-old Nakum Bawk Naw and 15-year-old Hpau Yu Doi San Awng.
Kachin Independence Army (KIA) spokesperson La Nan told DVB that government forces are continuing their military onslaught on the rebel base, using heavy artillery and attack helicopters.
“[Government forces] have been firing about 4-5 artillery rounds every day from Dawhpumyang, about 15km away, and today they landed in a residential area, causing civilian casualties,” he said.
The President’s spokesman, Ye Htut, told AFP that he had no information about the attack, but that the army would not “intentionally” target civilians. Both aid workers and rebels have previously accused the government of routinely attacking civilians.
“This is just a routine job for the [Burmese army]; hurting civilians, burning villages, arresting, torturing and murdering people,” said La Nan.
Rebels say that helicopter gunships and fighter jets are now targeting areas controlled by the KIA’s Brigade 3 for the first time – a strategic region near Bhamo some fifty kilometres south of Laiza.
On Saturday, rebels claim to have shot down a Burmese military helicopter some 30 kilometres south of Myitkyina, killing all three passengers. The government says it was an “emergency landing”.
La Nan also dismissed government accusations that the group had bombed a freight train last week as “groundless”.
“They are accusing the KIO [Kachin Independence Organisation] of bombing civilian trains in an attempt to portray us as terrorists.”
Locals say shells also landed in central Laiza last week, but today’s attack was the first to cause casualties. The Burmese government has repeatedly denied attacking Laiza and maintains that it is acting in self-defence.
On Friday, President Thein Sein praised the army for its “sacrifices in blood and sweat” in Kachin state, despite international condemnation of its use of air strikes against the rebels.
The KIA has been locked in a bloody battle with government troops since a 17-year ceasefire broke down in June 2011. More than 75,000 civilians have been displaced and numerous attempts at peace-talks have failed.
The ongoing conflict severely dents the reformist credentials of President Thein Sein, who has successfully brokered ceasefire deals with ten of the eleven major armed groups in Burma. The KIA, which is fighting for greater autonomy and ethnic rights, insists they want a genuine political solution.
–Additional reporting by Nang Mya Nadi