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Three killed in artillery attack on Kachin rebel stronghold

Strike marks latest sign of escalation in northern Myanmar conflict

Three killed in artillery attack on Kachin rebel stronghold
A civilian injured in an artillery attack in Laiza, Kachin state, which killed three people (photo by Min Htay)
John Zaw, Mandalay

January 14, 2013

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Artillery fire by government forces killed three civilians and injured four others today in Laiza, the main stronghold of the ethnic minority Kachin insurgency, the rebels said.

The deaths were the first reported in this town on the Chinese border since a long-term ceasefire ended in mid-2011.

Kachin Independence Army (KIA) spokesman La Nan said the Myanmar army initiated dawn strikes prompting many civilians to flee the area, the latest sign that the war is escalating following a series of government air strikes in nearby Mansi township, a key insurgent position.

Father Nanzing of Kachin state’s Banmaw diocese who is currently in Laiza helping with a relief effort said the situation in the town is the worst it has been since fighting resumed in 2011.

About 80 families living in the vicinity of today’s mortar strikes have fled to a Catholic church compound in Laiza as other people also took shelter in a Baptist church in what is a heavily Christian region of Myanmar.

“The Church is preparing to build further temporary shelter for more people as this is an emergency situation here in Laiza town,” said Fr Nanzing.

More than 12,000 people displaced by the recent escalation in the fighting have taken refuge in five camps in Laiza, which had been considered a safe haven with the conflict mostly taking place in remote jungle areas in Kachin state.

On Friday evening, the rebels claimed to have shot down an army helicopter but state media later reported the Mi-35 gunship suffered engine failure with three soldiers reportedly killed.

The Myanmar government has come under pressure to end the Kachin conflict as peace talks have progressed with other ethnic minority groups on the periphery of the country.

“If military forces stop their attacks all these difficulties and challenges will be solved,” said Khon Ja, a Kachin peace activist.

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