Kachin relief workers said Burma Army units carried out a violent raid on an ethnic Kachin village and a camp for displaced civilians on Tuesday, reportedly looting belongings, injuring four and causing hundreds of villagers to seek refuge in a local church.
The reported incident comes at a time when the Burmese government hopes to convince the Kachin rebels and other ethnic rebel groups to join a nationwide ceasefire conference.
Naw Din, director of Karuna Myanmar Social Service Relief Team, said Burmese soldiers entered Mung Ding Pa village in Mansi Township, southern Kachin State, on Tuesday morning and randomly opened fire.
“Escaped villagers told me that the government troops … entered Mung Ding Pa village in Mansi Township, shooting everywhere,” he told The Irrawaddy by phone. Naw Din said that about 60 villagers managed to escape during the attack and fled to nearby Mai Hkaung village, where he met with the group on Wednesday.
“The escaped villagers said four people were wounded by the soldiers’ shooting, but we are not able to confirm their conditions as we cannot go into the village,” said Naw Din. He added that hundreds of villagers were reportedly seeking refuge in a local church and could not leave as they are surrounded by soldiers.
Some 2,000 people live in Mung Ding Pa, a village located about 20 km (12 miles) south of Bhamo that also houses an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp of about 400 civilians, according to Naw Din, whose organization provides aid to 47 IDP camps in Bhamo District.
A group of international Kachin activists, the Kachin National Organization, claimed in a press release on Thursday that Burma Army Light Infantry Battalions 45, 56, 236, 240, 276, 601 and 602 raided Mung Ding Pa and Kong Ja villages in Mansi Township.
The activists said the soldiers “fired small and heavy artillery toward Mung Ding Pa IDP camp. Local witnesses stated that 60mm heavy artillery shells landed near the school in the IDP camp.” The overseas group said eight people, including a child, had been arbitrarily arrested by the soldiers.
Father Peter Lazum Tu, a Catholic priest from Mai Hkaung village, said hundreds of Kachin villagers from Mung Ding Pa, Nam Phu, Khaw Yum and Hkaung Ja villages in Mansi Township had fled their homes after the incident out of fear for Burma Army attacks.
“The villagers are afraid of further fighting, so they left their homes,” he said, adding that these villagers could not be reached due to ongoing army movements in the area.
Nam Lin Pa, another village in Mansi Township where there is a 1,000-strong IDP camp, has been cut off since last week after government soldiers entered the area, Naw Din said.
Early this month, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and government troops reportedly skirmished in Mansi Township.
The current Burma Army operations, however, were not part of a government attack on the KIA, said Father Peter Lazum Tu. He said he believed that the troops ostensibly came to tackle illegal logging in the area and to secure a road that runs through the township.
On Aug. 1, Shan State Forestry and Mining Minister Sai Aik Paung told reporters in the Shan capital Taunggyi that his administration had asked government troops to crackdown on illegal logging in Kachin State’s Mabein and Mansi townships, which straddle the border with Mong Mit Township in Shan State.
Father Peter Lazum Tu said it appeared KIA soldiers had decided not to confront the Burma Army units that entered into Mansi Township this week because of ongoing ceasefire talks. “I think, that as the KIA is talking with the government about peace, they are not responding with military actions,” he said.
The KIA and government have been engaged in occasionally heavy clashes since June 2011, when a long-standing ceasefire broke down. Since March this year tensions have cooled and there have been three rounds of ceasefire talks. The sides last met on Oct. 8-10 and signed a preliminary agreement to work towards reaching a ceasefire.
The Burmese government is keen to hold a nationwide ceasefire conference next month and all major ethnic rebel groups are meeting in Laiza next week to take a joint position on Naypyidaw’s proposal to hold a conference.
The KIA is one of two major rebel groups that have not yet signed a ceasefire agreement with the government and skirmishes between the sides are regularly reported.
Additional reporting by Nan Thiri Lwin.