The Burmese government army conducted heavy airstrikes on Kachin rebel positions near the insurgents’ base in Laiza for the seventh consecutive day on Thursday, but on Friday no more airstrikes were reported, Kachin Independence Army (KIA) sources said.
According to the KIA however, the fighting on the ground continued to intensify in Burma’s mountains northern region.
Hla Seng, a spokesperson for the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF), a rebel group that fights alongside the KIA, said the insurgents sustained fierce attacks from the air in multiple areas on Thursday. He added that government forces seemed to scale-up their assault.
“The fighting is getting bigger,” he told The Irrawaddy on Friday. “They used two fighter jets yesterday and [the jets] seemed bigger and faster than before. They dropped bombs and rockets in [the areas of] Lajayang, Namsam Yang and around KIA’s headquarters in Laiza, on the Sino-Burma border.”
But ABSDF Major Min Htay, who is stationed near Laiza, said Friday had passed without any further aerial attacks by the government. “We didn’t see any airstrikes today in the Lajayang area, but there is artillery shelling,” he said. It was the first full day without an air raid in the area in a week.
Min Htay said there had been clashes between ethnic rebels and government soldiers in other parts of Kachin State on Friday. “There is fighting in the KIA Brigade 3 area in northern Shan state” north of Lashio, he said. “I don’t know if the government used airplanes there.”
Since mid December, the Burmese military has launched heavy attacks on Kachin rebel positions, using helicopter gunships and later fighter jets. Its attacks have focused on the strategically important mountain area of Lajayang, from where its artillery could potentially shell KIA headquarters located near the Laiza, a town on the border with China.
The government initially denied using airstrikes but on Wednesday it acknowledged the attacks, adding that it had seized a hilltop position from Kachin rebels to protect supply lines. Burmese troops have now come within 10 kilometers of Laiza, where tens of thousands of refugees have also sought shelter.
Hla Seng said rebels believed that the Burmese military would continue to escalate the conflict until had it seized the Lajayang area in order to justify the heavy losses it sustained in recent weeks. “They are still reinforcing troops. It seems they will only heat up the battle as they have suffered a lot” already, he said.
The US, Britain and the UN expressed concerns over the escalating conflict this week—in particular over the use of airstrikes by the Burmese military. They urged the government and the KIA to end their fighting and open a dialogue.
The office of President Thein Sein issued a statement on Friday in which it defended the government’s military actions in Kachin State. It made no mention however, of the numerous airstrikes the army has launched.
“To ensure smooth transportation and peace and stability [in Kachin State], the government has taken military steps and defended its positions,” the statement said. “The government army has been careful not to launch a major offensive.”
In June 2011, a long-standing cease-fire between Kachin rebels and the government broke down and fighting erupted.
James Lun Dau, the Kachin Independence Organization’s deputy chief of foreign affairs, said on Friday that there had been about 2,000 armed clashes between the government and the KIA troops since June 2011. About 100,000 refugees on Sino-Burma border have been displaced by the conflict.