In the past five months nine civilians were killed and fourteen injured in Kachin State as a result of Burmese military artillery fire, a Kachin human rights group alleges. It said army units also torched hundreds of homes and committed acts of sexual violence against local women and girls.
In its report “State Terror in the Kachin Hills,” released on Thursday, the Kachin Women's Association Thailand (KWAT) documented six cases between early September and late January in which Burmese artillery units fired at towns, villages and camps of displaced of villagers.
The government and Kachin rebels have been fighting an ethnic conflict in northern Burma since June 2011, when a 17-year-old ceasefire collapsed. The violence has displaced an estimated 100,000 civilians. On Feb. 4, the sides held peace talks and fighting has quieted down since.
KWAT said the international community should pressure Burma's government over the shelling incidents, as repeated authorization for military actions that put civilian lives and homes in harm's way “represent serious breaches of international humanitarian law, and are likely to amount to war crimes.”
Apart from the well-publicized Jan. 14 shelling of Laiza town, which killed three civilians and injured four, the rights group pointed to strikes on three villages and Hpakant town, and the shelling of a camp for displaced villagers. The latter five incidents killed a total of six civilians and injured ten, according to the report.
In the most recent incident, on Jan. 29, Burma Army artillery unit 372 fired mortar rounds directly into Mayan village, located about 40 km south of the state capital Myitkyina, according to KWAT.
“Shells landed on three houses, causing the death of a woman, Labram Lu, and her 9-year-old son. Three other civilians, Jangmaw Doi, aged 95, Jangmaw Awng Nu, 35, and a 2-year-old boy were injured,” it said
The report said the shelling “was apparently in response to gunshots fired by some drunken Burmese troops in the town. There was no KIA presence in the area.” It added that officers from the artillery later offered $360 in compensation to the bereaved families.
The group described another deadly incident not far from Hpakant town on Nov. 2 when “a Burmese unit at Hpakant Byuhakone [base] fired 120mm shells at Tahtechaung village, causing the death of two civilians and injuring an older man, Sam La, age 50, and two boys, Marip Naw Mai, 12, and Marip Doi La, 8.”
The report also alleges that Burmese army units deliberately destroy civilians' homes and properties. It described two such cases, including an incident on Jan. 6 when about 300 soldiers entered Namsanyang village, located along the Myitkyina-Bhamo road, and burned down 296 out of 520 homes.
KWAT accused military units of committing acts of sexual violence against Kachin women, adding that it had documented 64 cases of rape since June 2011. Most recently, on Nov. 1, soldiers from Light Infantry Batallion 13 gang-raped a woman in her home in Hkasan village, on the Kamaing-Mogaung road, the report alleged.
The government has denied that there is recurrent military aggression against the ethnic Kachin civilian population.
President Thein's spokesman Ye Htut said in January and February that the military is “not targeting civilians” in Kachin State and has questioned whether the army was involved in the shelling of Laiza. He has also stated that it is untrue that “rape against women is used as a [military] policy.”
The Kachin women's group called for an UN-led Commission of Inquiry to investigate the incidents in Kachin State as crimes against humanity and war crimes. It also urged the international community to re-impose the economic sanctions on Burma, which were lifted last year following political reforms after having been in place for years.
“Without international pressure, Burma's government will continue using force to crush ethnic dissent,” KWAT coordinator Moon Nay Li said in a press release. “Even while the government is talking peace, they are launching war.”