At least 29 individuals killed, including women and children, were unfortunately lost in an artillery strike on a refugee camp in Myanmar’s Kachin State. This sevent unfolded near the town of Laiza, which lies on the border between Myanmar and China.
The camp was situated only three miles from the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), a long-standing ethnic rebel group that has been in conflict with Myanmar’s military junta for decades. The attack, one of the deadliest in the 63-year-long conflict in Kachin State.
The evening of Monday, October 9, 2023, will forever be etched in the memory of the people in the camp and the surrounding areas.
At around 11:30 pm local time, a barrage of artillery fire rained down on the Mong Lai Khet camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs), transforming the night into a sickening bad dream.
Homes were destroyed, and families were destroyed as the strong blasts shook the camp. The disastrous force of the attack was so severe that it left parts of the camp in ruins, with houses buried under debris and soil.
In the aftermath, rescuers worked tirelessly by torchlight to recover the bodies of the victims, laying them out on towels and tarpaulins on the ground.
The misfortune is intensified by the fact that many of the victims were innocent civilians, including children, who had already endured immense hardship and suffering due to the ongoing conflict in Kachin State.
While the specific number of losses might in any case be dependent upon verification, reports from Khon Ja, an activist with the Kachin Peace Network Civil Society, suggest that 29 people lost their lives, and an additional 59 were injured.
Among the losses were 11 children under the age of 16, and the youngest victim, a three-month-old baby, further highlighting the severity of the attack.
Kachin State in the northernmost part of Myanmar, has for quite some time been a hotbed of conflict and instability. The Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), controls significant portions of the state, including areas near the border with China.
For decades, the KIA has been in conflict with Myanmar’s central government, with ceasefires breaking down and clashes erupting sporadically.
However, the situation escalated dramatically following the military coup of 2021 when the junta accused the KIA of supporting and training the newer “People’s Defence Forces” that have emerged to resist the military junta’s rule.
The recent artillery strike on the refugee camp is not an isolated incident but rather a tragic chapter in a long history of violence in Kachin State.
In October of the previous year, Myanmar’s military carried out air strikes on an open-air concert organized by the KIA, resulting in the deaths of over 80 people. The military authorities, however, dismissed reports of civilian casualties as mere “rumors.”
Such incidents have drawn the attention of the United Nations, which has raised concerns about the escalating violence and the impact on civilians.
Myanmar, a country of 53 million individuals, has been dove into emergency since the military held onto power in a coup in February 2021, expelling the democratically-elected government.
In the aftermath of the coup, widespread protests erupted across the country, met with a brutal crackdown by the security forces.
This marked the beginning of a violent and tumultuous period in Myanmar’s history, characterized by the indiscriminate use of air raids, artillery shelling, and arson by the military.
As a result, hundreds of thousands of people have been forcibly displaced from their homes, seeking refuge in already overcrowded IDP camps or crossing borders in search of safety.
A critical aspect of the ongoing conflict in Myanmar is the role played by external actors, specifically Russia and China.
These countries have been identified as the main suppliers of advanced weapons systems to the Myanmar military, according to a UN report.
The military’s access to advanced weaponry has further fueled the intensity of the conflict and contributed to the suffering of the civilian population.