At least 29 people, including children, fell victim to a devastating artillery strike on a displaced persons’ camp located in north-east Myanmar, near the Chinese border. The camp was situated in an area under the control of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), one of several ethnic insurgent groups engaged in a decades-long struggle for self-rule. Tragically, all of the casualties were civilians, as confirmed by a KIO spokesperson.
Escalation of Conflict in Kachin State
This horrific incident marks one of the deadliest attacks in the protracted 63-year-long conflict in Kachin State. Authorities in the region report a surge in military offensives by the armed forces over the past year.
This escalation is linked to increasing Kachin support for other insurgent groups opposing the military government, particularly following the 2021 coup that displaced the country’s elected leadership.
Disputed Responsibility and Devastation
While the exiled National Unity Government (NUG) unequivocally attributes the attack to the junta, labeling it a “war crime and crime against humanity,” Junta spokesman Maj Gen Zaw Min Tun denies the military’s involvement.
He suggests that the destruction was “probably” due to stockpiled explosives. Disturbing images circulated by local media depict rescue workers retrieving lifeless bodies from the wreckage and rows of body bags.
IDP Camp Under Attack
The tragic assault took place late on Monday night in the Mong Lai Khet camp for internally displaced persons, situated on the outskirts of Laiza, a town along the Chinese border housing the KIO’s headquarters. The camp suffered substantial damage, with reports of powerful explosions around midnight.
Footage from the aftermath illustrates extensive destruction to numerous houses and a significant number of casualties, including an estimated 11 children. Additionally, 56 individuals sustained injuries, with 44 of them receiving medical treatment.
International Concern and Ongoing Conflict
The United Nations in Myanmar expressed deep concern regarding the reported deaths at the camp, emphasizing that IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps should never be targets for violence. The British embassy in Yangon condemned the military strike, expressing outrage over civilian casualties.
The region around the camp has experienced conflict for years, but recent reports indicate no recent fighting in the immediate vicinity. The source of the attack remains unclear, with some speculating it may have been carried out from the air.
Ongoing Conflict and Unending Violence
The Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the KIO’s armed wing, stands as one of Myanmar’s largest and most influential insurgent groups. Its struggle against the central government has persisted since 1960, intensifying after a ceasefire dissolved in 2011. Following the 2021 coup, the military government perceived the KIA as a significant threat, as it began providing weapons and training to new insurgent groups resisting military rule.
The KIA has a longstanding alliance with the Arakan Army, an insurgent group originally formed in Kachin State but operating in Rakhine State since 2016. Their presence in Rakhine State has challenged the military’s control over substantial territory in the region.
A report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights highlights a disturbing pattern of “seemingly endless military violence” in Myanmar, underscoring the gravity of the ongoing conflict and the need for a peaceful resolution.