A strategically important base where Kachin rebels had held out for weeks against sustained attacks from the Burmese army has finally fallen, with reports claiming that Burmese troops set alight to buildings there, gutting it and forcing the Kachin deeper into their own territory.
The base, near Hpakun village in Kachin state’s Bhamo district, fell on Thursday last week. An official from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) said that Burmese troops also razed several buildings in the village after a final push on 17 November rounded off a week of heavy fighting.
The battle for control of Kachin state in Burma’s north has ebbed and flowed since it began in June this year, following the KIA’s refusal to become a government-controlled Border Guard Force. Rights groups allege a raft of violations of the laws of war committed by Burmese troops, including rape of ethnic women and religious persecution.
Among the buildings destroyed in Hpakun, which lies just south of the Taping dam site where fighting first erupted in June, was a church and a Christian pastor’s house, the KIA official added.
A DVB reporter in Kachin state said that heavy artillery fire was heard from Burmese locations. The KIA claims to have only used it sparingly.
“The KIA troops took position in front of Hpakun village and they had to withdraw when the Burmese army used force [to] entered the area,” he said. He also cited additional allegations of the use of chemical weapons by Burmese forces. KIA personnel were experiencing “dizziness, nose bleeds and also vomiting blood” following several rounds of artillery on the day Hpakun fell, he claims.
As the Burmese army inches closer to the KIA headquarters in Laiza, close to the China border, grim reports of the conflict’s impact on civilians continue to emerge.
A local in the Kachin state capital of Myitkyina, which is controlled by the Burmese, told DVB that troops had ordered families close to an army base belonging to Battalion 37 on the edge of town to relocate, following the mysterious disappearance of two soldiers earlier this month.
“All civilian houses, chicken farms and sawmills close to its base must move out by 30 November,” he said, requesting anonymity. “They [the army] said they don’t want to see a single hut within a 500-yard radius of their base – they would allow farmers to work in the area, but no one can sleep overnight.”
In northern Shan state, where several KIA battalions operate, nine people were detained by the army on Friday last week on suspicion of aiding the Kachin rebels. Four of the group, from Naungsangon village in Namhkam township, were later released, but five remain and are believed to have been tortured.
One of those released, Pastor Maung Than, said that some of those kept behind “were beaten so severely that two of them collapsed and fainted”, as army personnel attempted to extract information on the KIA’s activities in the region.
Around 1,000 civilians were forced to flee over the China border last week as fighting flared near to Momauk township. They add to the 30,000 people estimated to have been displaced since fighting began this year.