Air War in Kachinland: Burma Military Air Attacks on Kachin Territory, December 4, 2012 - January 18, 2013
This Project Maje report provides a summary of current (as of January 18, 2013) information on the use of aircraft in the North War. For background on the origins of the conflict, and maps, see Project Maje's reports The North War: A Kachin Conflict Compilation Report (August 2011) and The North War, Part II: The Kachin Conflict Continues (December 2011.) This update report is intended as convenient background information for journalists, military analysts, and others interested in the situation in Kachinland. Project Maje is not responsible for the content of any the news articles and opinions cited in this report and does not vouch for the accuracy of any of them. Journalists and other researchers needing further information and advice regarding northern Burma issues can contact Project Maje.
Project Maje is an independent information project on Burma's human rights and environmental issues, founded in 1986. The founder/director of Project Maje, Edith Mirante, visited KIO-controlled areas of Kachin State in 1991, 1995, 2002 and 2011. Front line photos of KIA (2011 and 1991) are by Edith Mirante.
Thanks to C., J., KF list members and to Bruce for this website.
Air War Hardware
Responses to the Air War
Chronology of the Air War -- News Items
The sustained use of aircraft by the government of Burma (aka Myanmar) in attacks on Kachin Independence Army (KIA, the armed wing of the federalist Kachin Independence Organization, KIO) positions is a new, if not entirely surprising development. Throughout military rule, Burma rarely used military aircraft against the ethnic resistance. With a record of crashes of military and civilian aircraft, involving substandard training and maintenance, and low ground-to-air communications capabilities, perhaps the regime was reluctant to risk such expensive (equipment.) The military jets purchased may have been outdated models without proper equipment. However, the fixed positions and urbanized territory of the KIA have been perceived as vulnerable to air attack throughout the current warfare ("North War") which began in June 2011.
As the KIA has inflicted enormous casualties on the Tatmadaw (government military) ground troops throughout the conflict, without ceding any significant territory and the KIA seemed possibly poised to retake the prize of the Hpakant jade mines at some points during the North War, the decision was apparently made at some level in Burma's government/military to deploy both attack helicopters (described as "fearsome" by an observer on the scene) and jet aircraft. KIA spokesperson La Nan reportedly "believed orders for the attack may have come from defense officials at the national government level, as lower ranking officials could not authorize the use of jet fighters in civil wars on their own." (Irrawaddy, December 28, 2012.)
During December 2012 - January 2013 the aircraft have been deployed mainly against KIA bases guarding the town of Laiza on the border of China, notably around Lajayang to the south, although they have attacked other locations in Kachin State as well. The Burma government has explained the attacks as an effort to secure supply lines to its own forward bases, after the KIA refused a government ultimatum to withdraw from a road in the vicinity of Lajayang by Christmas. But the government/military appear to have launched an all out offensive prior to that, in early December with the goal of taking over high ground from which to aim heavy artillery at Laiza, with its KIA command center and civilian population (including thousands of internal refugees.) The December/January air attacks have been conducted in conjunction with major ground-based artillery bombardments and fierce infantry assaults. A frontline KIA officer, Lt. Minh Ladin, commented, "Usually, when the Burmese army attacks my post the artillery is used first, then ground forces, and occasionally air support in the form of jet fighters and helicopter strafing." (Irrawaddy, January 18, 2013.)
This report includes a summary of responses by the international community, as well as Burma's government and other groups, to the use of air attacks against the KIA. While the use of air power has added a deadly new element to the Tatmadaw (Burma's armed forces) assaults on a string of KIA bases protecting Laiza, enabling the placement of artillery with clear lines into the town, it has had political effects which may be to the immense disadvantage of Burma's government.
As of January 18, 2013, the air war (called "the most expensive battle in [Burmese] history" by military analyst Aung Kyaw Zaw, quoted in Shan Herald Agency for News, January 10, 2013) and related artillery deployment has resulted in:
- "deep concern" from the United States government
- a threat of revived sanctions in the United Kingdom's Parliament
- threats of revoking ceasefires from an array of ethnic armies
- strong rebukes and a call for an immediate end to the attacks from China
- a demonstration by Chinese citizens against the attacks
- severe damage to Burma's new reformist image
- President Thein Sein appearing weak vs. his army
- President Thein Sein being accused of being a duplicitous figurehead
- Burma's Parliament calling for an end to the attacks
The air attacks have also terrorized the thousands of civilians in and around Laiza, many of whom had fled there from other areas in hopes of a safe haven. The use of helicopters and jets in an all out "Operation Lightning" offensive against Laiza was apparently meant to force the KIA to surrender, or as an observer put it, "They want to see the Kachin kneel down at the peace table prepared by Thein Sein and others." (DVB, January 15, 2013.) As of January 18, 2013, it had not had that effect.
"It was difficult during the first fortnight because the KIA was not used to air attacks at first," KIA Lt. Minh Ladin told a reporter (Irrawaddy, January 18, 2013.) The use of air power in counter-insurgency against forces without any air capabilities may initially have a "shock and awe" effect, but in some cases, guerrilla forces have a quick learning curve for dealing with attacks from above. Throughout the North War, the KIA has shown itself to be a truly extraordinary fighting army, killing and wounding massive numbers of Tatmadaw troops while operating with flexible tactics.
The KIA's "prize" of the town of Laiza may be a vulnerability, but the proximity of Laiza to the Chinese border could prove to be the ultimate protection, as China's irate call for an immediate ceasefire following repeated cross-border spillover of Burma's artillery apparently resulted within 24 hours in a unilateral ceasefire (for the Lajayang area) announcement by Burma's government on state television on January 18, 2013. Even if that announcement is a sham, or is ignored by the Tatamadaw, it shows that Burma's government is aware that it is losing the war of international opinion (having bathed in the glow of praise for over a year) along with losing any trust placed in it by other ethnic nationalities.
The situation in Kachinland will continue to develop day by day, hour by hour. While this report provides background, news updates, including photos and video can be found at these websites, among others:
AIR WAR HARDWARE
According to Jane's Information Group (Sentinel Security Assessment - Southeast Asia, March 16, 2012) "Since 2009, Myanmar [Burma] has taken a number of steps to significantly bolster its air arm through the acquisition of MiG-29 'Fulcrum' combat aircraft, Mi-35 'Hind' attack helicopters and K-8 Karakorum jet trainers." Longtime Burma analyst Bertil Lintner wrote,
"Judging from photographs taken in Kachin State, the planes used appear to be Hongdu JL-8, or Karakorum-8, light attack aircraft that Myanmar acquired from China years ago. The helicopter gunships are Russian-made Mi-35, the export version of the Mi-24 Hind that were used extensively in the Afghan war in the 1980s. Myanmar bought its first Mi-35s in September 2010, when even the KIA had a ceasefire agreement with the government."
(Lintner, Al Jazeera, January 10, 2013.)
Although helicopters had been used for transport in 2011 and occasionally in attacks on the KIA during 2012 (for instance, "Govt Helicopter Reportedly Shells KIO Bases" Irrawaddy, May 3, 2012) and "Kachins in Fight to Defend Mountain Base" Irrawaddy, January 4, 2012), their sustained deployment reportedly began on December 4, 2012, with attacks described as by Russian-made Mi-24 attack helicopters in groups of 2 (most often), 3 or 4. The helicopters have sometimes been described as Mi-35, which is the Mi-24's export designation. A helicopter which was shot down by KIA on January 11, 2013 (or, according to Burma's government, made an "emergency landing" due to engine failure) was identified as an Mi-35 by a Burma government official.
The Mi-24/Mi-35 ("Hind") is world-famous as an attack helicopter, built for speed and armored to the point of near-total invulnerability from small-arms fire. Its weapons options include "23 mm automatic cannon, 16 anti-tank missiles or up to 80 unguided rockets" (Strategypage.com) It has little capacity for carrying troops (only about 8 passengers) or supplies. Burma's Air Force reportedly purchased 50 combat-capable Mi-24/Mi-35 helicopters as well as 12 Mi-2 transport helicopters from Russia "for counter-insurgency" in 2010 ("Burma Buys 50 Combat Helicopters" Irrawaddy, September 8, 2010.) There were also accounts of an Mi-8 medevac helicopter being damaged during a battle on December 14, 2013. The Mi-8 is a multi-role transport helicopter with gunship capabilities.
Chinese Jet Fighters
Starting Dec. 28, 2012, the use of jet fighter planes has been reported, in groups of 2 to 5. Zaw Htay (director of Burma President Thein Sein's office) stated that the jets were "KB training aircraft not fighter jets" (BBC, January 2, 2013.) This was disingenuous as they are trainer-classified 2-seater fighter jets, fully capable of an attack role (and certainly not suitable for "resupply" of ground troops, as Zaw Htay may have claimed at the time.) According to Airforce-technology.com "The K-8 was designed to execute pilot training as well as light attack missions in all weather conditions." (http://tinyurl.com/awyune5.) The attacking jets have also been described in news reports as Chinese-made Hongdu JL-8 fighter jets (Kachinland News, January 4, 2013); they are essentially the same aircraft -- the K-8 is described as "the export version of China's JL-8" in an article in Defense Industry Daily ("China's K-8 jets: A Killer for Myanmar" June 30, 2010.) The Defense Industry Daily article also states that [Burma's purchase of the K-8 jets, estimated at 5 to 10 million US dollars each] "make sense only if many of these aircraft are dedicated to a counterinsurgency role, where slower 2-seat aircraft are often more effective than high-speed interceptors." The full article, at http://tinyurl.com/by9cz4s connects the acquisition of the jets, brokered by timber and aviation tycoon Tayza, to security for the Burma/China petroleum pipeline now under construction.
Jane's Information Group commented on March 16, 2012 that Burma's Air Force lacked "experienced pilots, proven combat skills and adequate ground facilities." When the jet attacks first started, Maj. Min Htay, an officer with the KIA ally All Burma Students Democratic Force, in the combat area, commented, "We heard they [the government's army] hired professionals to come and shoot the KIA bases by jet fighters. But, we don't know who they hired." (Irrawaddy, Dec. 28.) The possible use of outside contractor jet pilots, perhaps from another country, seems not to have been covered or investigated further in news stories accessed for this report.
According to Sinodefence.com, "The K-8 doesn't have a fixed weapon. There are four under-wing pylons to carry up to 1,000 kg payload, each rated at 250 kg. The stations can carry drop tanks, 23 mm cannon pods, unguided rockets, 250 kg bombs, short-range air-to-air missiles (e.g. Magic R550)." (http://tinyurl.com/a7v8phh) Helicopters and jets have been reported to have strafed (by "machine gun"), fired rockets, and dropped bombs, as well as possible chemical agents. There have been a few news reports of civilian casualties and damage from the air attacks, but details are lacking about KIA (or Tatmadaw "friendly fire") casualties specifically from the air attacks. In contrast, the Tatmadaw's ground artillery emplacements have caused well-reported civilian casualties, even in Laiza as of January 14, 2013. Some reports have noted that the aircraft have entered Chinese airspace, possibly deliberately while on the attack. There have also been reports of "shelling" by aircraft hitting the China side of the border.
An additional jet fighter may have been used in the attacks on the KIA: the Yugoslavia-made Soko G-4 Super Galeb, which like the K-8 (JL-8) is a two-seater trainer-type fighter plane with ground attack capabilities. A few Super Galebs were acquired by Burma in the early 1990s; they were reportedly grounded for lack of spare parts (and at least one crashed) but at least two of them were revived more recently. On January 3, ABSDF's Hla Seng observed, "They used two fighter jets yesterday and [the jets] seemed bigger and faster than before." (Irrawaddy, January 4.) This might have refered to use of the Yugoslavian jets, although the size and speed of the Super Galebs is very similar to that of the K-8 (JL-8.)
RESPONSES TO THE AIR WAR
The Burma government's commentary on the air offensive has been dominated by two spokespersons, Zaw Htay, director of the President's office and avid Facebooker Ye Htut, Deputy Information Minister. Their initial mode of response to allegations of air attacks was blanket denial with apparent ignorance of the capabilities of the aircraft in use, sometimes to a degree reminiscent of the obvious prevarications of Saddam Hussein's spokesman Mohammad Saeed al-Sahhaf ("Comical Ali.")
The Burma military "didn't use helicopters to shoot the KIA. It's not their nature to use helicopter gunships in a civil war" Zaw Htay insisted in mid-December [The Irrawaddy, December 17, 2012.] Zaw Htay also stated that "the military has given assurances that they are not launching an offensive against the KIA headquarters at Laiza. The aircraft activities are mainly to send supplies to troops in Lajayang military camp, which has run out of food supplies." [AP, December 31, 2012.] According to the BBC, in early January, Zaw Htay "said the situation was complex, and that the military had told them they were only using planes to resupply its troops. 'The aircraft being used are K8 training aircraft not fighter jets - that is the information I got from the military. I have no information on the use of helicopters.'" [BBC News, January 2, 2013.]
The air offensive was officially admitted in early when, according to CNN, Zaw Htay said that the "the military carried out 'air attacks'" on December 30 and 31." [CNN, January 3, 2013.] The government military's Myawaddy News reportedly said that a KIA base was seized "with the help of air strikes in the region" on December 30 [The Telegraph UK, January 2, 2013.] The Telegraph UK also quoted Presidential advisor Hla Maung Swe: "We heard the military used helicopters and training jets while trying to get their camp back."
On January 2, 2012, the government's New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported "The Tatmadaw offered air lift and provided security with the state government in transporting foodstuffs and consumer goods to Putao District and Public Works in repairing damaged roads and bridges due to the mine attacks of KIA." Putao is far north of the air attack area near Laiza, so that report was not directly relevant to the air offensive. Later that week, a government statement reportedly sought to justify airstrikes as necessary because of KIA infrastructure sabotage: "Due to these circumstances, the Tatmadaw had to take military action as self-defence and in order to protect the safety of lives and properties of the people, safe and smooth transportation and peace and tranquility of the region... Even though Tatmadaw had to take this action, it has exercised maximum restraint in using force." [AFP, January 4, 2013.]
In mid-January, an interviewer from The Irrawaddy asked Ye Htut why airstrikes were necessary "against KIA outposts" and he replied, "It's not the first time we used airstrikes. It was based on military necessity. It is something we do depending on the fighting situation." He also insisted that
"the air attacks are not aimed at civilians. When we shoot, we are not shooting towards Laiza, but behind Laiza. The planes just fly over Laiza, so there is less impact on the people there." [Irrawaddy, January 17, 2013.]
Opposition leader and Parliament member Aung San Suu Kyi had not been reported to have commented directly on the air offensive by mid-January, and had shown little inclination to be publicly involved in efforts to stop the war, but did reportedly say on January 16 that fighting should "stop immediately." [Irrawaddy, January 16, 2013.] The air war and overall escalation appears to have inspired some new activism by the peace movement within Burma. On January 2, there was reportedly an anti-war protest with hundreds of participants in Rangoon [Irrawaddy, January 2, 2013] and in mid-January plans were announced for a "long march" to Laiza by Burma's peace activists. Kachin exiles and supporters (including Chin, Shan and Burman exiles) organized demonstrations protesting the Burma government offensive and air attacks, in Washington DC, Bangkok, Australia and other locations in December and January. Participants called for Aung San Suu Kyi (criticized with "Silence = Violence" signs) and the international community to work to end the attacks.
The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), is a group of armed ethnic organizations, with members (other than KIO) in various stages of ceasefire agreements with the government. Plans have been in place for the UNFC to meet as a bloc with a government negotiating team at the end of January 2013, in order to press for a wide-ranging political solution for ethnic issues, with an eventual goal of a federal system, instead of the piecemeal group-by-group arrangements that produced current ceasefires with members including the Karen National Union, Shan State Progress Party (SSPP), Chin National Front (CNF) and New Mon State Party (NMSP). With the escalation of the war on the KIA, the UNFC bloc negotiation became a significant pressure point in what was at the very least a show of ethnic solidarity. On January 1 the UNFC issued a statement demanding that the government stop the offensive in Kachin State. UNFC General Secretary Nai Hongsa warned on January 11 that if the attacks around Laiza did not stop by the time of the late month negotiation session, "We will meet, but it will be to demand immediate cessation of hostilities, and nothing else." (Shan Herald Agency for News, January 11, 2013.) According to a January 14 Karen News story, UNFC Joint Secretary Khun Ohkka "We are meeting Union Minister U Aung Min by the end of this month and we will demand him the stop to the fighting in Kachin State. After that, if the fighting doesn't stop, we will take action according to what we've prepared." The threat of broken ceasefires in a wide range of ethnic areas was implicit in his comment.
In an unusual example of pan-ethnic solidarity, a "Joint Statement on the Warfare Escalation in Kachin State" was issued on January 15 by three armed groups in ceasefire whose territories border the conflict zone: the formidable United Wa State Army, the National Democratic Alliance Army (Kokang - Mongla), and the Shan State Army - North. The joint statement cited the situation in which "Burmese Army assigned fighters and armed helicopters bombed KIA as a signal of complete escalation for the warfare in Kachin State, which causes wider concerns for domestic and international societies," and appeared to contain an implied threat of breaking ceasefires, for which the groups would hold the Burma government responsible. UWSA relations with the KIA have ranged from somewhat friendly over the years to badly strained (as of September 2012), but if the two large armies entered into an active military support alliance, this could have significant effects, conceivably including access to UWSA's known arsenal of surface-to-air missiles.
Following a strong rebuke by China for a border violation, with a demand for an immediate ceasefire, two apparent attempts to but the brakes on the offensive occurred in Burma's capital, Naypyidaw. On January 18, the Lower House of Parliament unanimously approved through an urgent voice vote without debate, a motion proposed by a Kachin Member of Parliament, Daw Dwe Bu, with the endorsement of Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann, calling for an immediate Burma government and KIO ceasefire and resumption of peace talks. On the evening of January 18, Burma's state television broadcast an announcement from the State Information Committee that President Thein Sein had issued an order for a unilateral ceasefire by the Tatmadaw in the Lajayang area, to go into effect from 6:00 AM on January 19. The announcement reportedly claimed that the government had "concluded its conditional mission" but admitted that the Tatmadaw had suffered "many casualties" during the numerous battles during the offensive. (NY Times, January 18, 2013.)
In earlier phases of the current North War, observers speculated that Laiza's proximity to China helped to protect it from air attacks by Burma's military. Even though some of the attack aircraft is Chinese-made, the possibility of air strikes accidentally falling on locations in Yunnan (the province of China neighboring Kachin State) seemed to be something the Chinese government would find intolerable. During the present offensive, however, a KIO-sympathetic news source, Kachinland News [KLN], reported that Chinese officials might have given a go-ahead signal for the use of jets in late December. According to a KLN report: "Officials from Chinese and Burmese government met at Yurui Hot Spring Garden Hotel in Ruili city in Yunnan/China on Dec 27. 'They spent overnight at the same hotel with entertainments,' said a local source. Air strikes on KIO positions in Pangwa areas and KIO administrative capital Laiza area dramatically increased with the use of fighter jets painted with red stripes on their body the day after the two sides met at Ruili. 'I think Chinese showed green light for air strikes at the meeting, Burmese army escalated its use of fighter jets and bombers after the meeting,' said a local businessman with knowledge of Chinese officials" [Kachinland News, January 4, 2013.] This "green light" scenario has not been verified elsewhere.
Whether or not China's government tacitly was prepared to tolerate Burma's air strikes against the KIA, when the inevitable cross-border strikes occurred, there was a firm, public high-level response. In a press briefing on January 4,
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying took part in this exchange:
Q: "The Myanmar military reportedly staged military actions including air strikes against Kachin. What is China's comment? Please confirm reports that Myanmar military's bombs dropped on the Chinese side of the border."
A: "During the armed clashes between Myanmar government forces and the Kachin Independence Army on the night of December 30, 2012, three bombs landed on the Chinese side of the border without causing casualties. China has already lodged representations with Myanmar, requiring the latter to take immediate and effective measures to avoid repetition of similar incidents. The issue in northern Myanmar is Myanmar's internal affair. China hopes that the Myanmar government and relevant parties could properly solve the issue through peaceful negotiation, so as to maintain tranquility and stability of the China-Myanmar border."
Following the January 4 warning note sounded by the Foreign Ministry, China's Air Force sought to deny that there had been any violation of Chinese air space by Burma's jet fighters. According to China's official news agency, Xinhua, China's Air Force issued a statement on January 5 "saying no Myanmarese jets have entered Chinese territory. The statement came in response to reports that Myanmarese fighter jets had mistakenly entered China after armed conflict broke out in northern Myanmar. According to the statement, China's air force has tightened surveillance over territorial air across the China-Myanmar border since the conflict began. The closest Myanmarese jets are five kilometers away from the border." [Xinhua, January 6, 2013.] But accounts of Burma's fighter jets intruding over Yunnan seemed to have enough credibility for some Chinese policy experts to mull the question of why it had been allowed to happen. A Voice of America story said that Du Jifeng of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences commented "that China could also use less restraint when the Burmese government infringes on its airspace and territorial rights." January 16, 2013]
The air war and overall escalation around Laiza appeared to have neighboring areas of Yunnan on high alert in January, with the state-owned Global Times reporting flight cancellations at Yunnan's Tengchong Airport on January 9, "due to air traffic control concerns over the ongoing military conflict in the neighboring country." [Global Times, January 11, 2013.] Global Times also covered the preparation of refugee camps in Yunnan in a story on January 14, which also contained information about the loss of a Burma government helicopter "which made the [Burma] government 'lose face' before international society."
In one of the most extraordinary incidents since the North War began in June 2011, on January 10, 2013 an estimated 1,500 Chinese citizens of the Kachin-related Jingpo ethnicity, marched through the streets of the Yunnan city of Yingjiang in peaceful protest of Burma's attacks on KIA territory, then convoyed to Nabang, the town on the China side of the border with Laiza, for an enthusiastic show of cross-border solidarity. They were allowed to march over to Laiza, where they joined thousands of residents and internal refugees in a joint protest against the Burma government's air and ground attacks.
"A bomb" landing across the border mid-month provoked a vigorous rebuke of Burma and call for an immediate ceasefire, by China's Foreign Ministry on January 17. It is probably not a coincidence that a unilateral ceasefire for the region of Kachin State near China was announced by Burma's government the next day. In the January 17 press briefing the question and the answer by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei were:
Q: It is reported that during the continued armed clashes between the Myanmar government forces and the Kachin Independence Army, another bomb landed in China's Yunnan province on January 15, please confirm.
A: It is learnt that at about 4 pm on the afternoon of January 15 during the armed clashes between the Myanmar government forces and the Kachin Independence Army, a bomb landed in the Chinese side about 500 meters away from the borderline without causing casualties. China has lodged urgent representations with Myanmar, expressing deep concern and dissatisfaction and requiring the latter to carry out serious investigation and take all necessary measures to avoid repetition of similar incidents. China calls on both sides of the conflict to exercise maximum restraint, immediately cease fire and solve the dispute through dialogue so as to earnestly maintain peace and stability in the China-Myanmar border areas.
The United Nations expressed concern at the highest level with a January 2 statement by the spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon "On the Air Strikes in Kachin State in Myanmar": " The Secretary-General has taken serious note of the most recent reports indicating air strikes against targets in Kachin state. While details of these reports are still emerging and being closely followed, the Secretary-General calls upon the Myanmar authorities to desist from any action that could endanger the lives of civilians living in the area or further intensify the conflict in the region.
The on-going hostilities have already caused large-scale displacement of civilians who continue to be in need of humanitarian assistance. It is vital that timely access be provided for the delivery of aid to vulnerable communities. The Secretary-General urges all concerned parties to work toward political reconciliation in order to build the basis for a fair and durable outcome for all."
United States, United Kingdom and European Union
Burma's air war was addressed in a US State Department press briefing on
January 2, 2013, when spokesperson Victoria Nuland commented, "Well, obviously we note that the government did today admit that they have been using aerial weapons in Kachin State. We're obviously deeply troubled by the increased violence." She continued, "So it's very concerning obviously that these weapons are in use, and we will continue our discussion with the government about it." A follow up question, "Have you taken up with the Burmese Government not to use aerial power against the Kachin rebels?" received this reply from Ms. Nuland: "Again, we are just today getting confirmation that this has happened. I am sure that we will be formally expressing our concern about that kind of weaponry." A second follow up question, "And you said that you are deeply troubled by the increase in violence. You are not troubled with the use of aerial power?" was replied to by Nuland: "As I said, we are troubled by the use of air power. We were not in a position to confirm it until the government confirmed it itself, and it's extremely troubling."
In a press briefing on January 14, US State Department spokesperson Nuland replied again to questioning on the Kachin situation (not specifically mentioning the air attacks); her reply included: "We are troubled by the increased violence in Kachin State. We have been working both with the Government of Burma and with the Kachin Independence Organization to encourage both sides to halt the violence, to get into dialogue with each other. As you know, in a number of these other separatist areas, the Government of Burma has had success in getting into a dialogue about grievances and working things politically. That's what we want to see in Kachin as well." Her response to follow up questions included, "we've been urging an end to the violence on both sides."
During early to mid January, the United Kingdom's Foreign Office twice publicly expressed concern about the escalation of conflict. A statement by Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister, Hugo Swire, issued on January 4 included: "I am deeply concerned by the ongoing conflict between the Burmese Army and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Burma's Kachin State, including recent reports of air strikes in the state. An escalation in hostilities would put at risk the chance of a lasting peace in Burma. It is imperative that military commanders in Burma heed their President's calls for an end to hostilities." In response to a question in Parliament on January 14, Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt stated, "The British Government is deeply concerned by reports emerging from Kachin State of an escalation in hostilities, including the use of Burmese military helicopters and aircraft against Kachin Independence Army positions in areas around the state capital and Laiza. These tactics represent a marked escalation, and pose a significant risk of civilian casualties." A motion. "War in Kachin State, Burma" was offered in Parliament on January 14, with text beginning: "That this House condemns the Burma Army's military offensive against the ethnic Kachin; expresses grave concern over the recent use of aerial bombardment in the offensive;" and ending with a threat to "work within the EU to halt relaxation of economic sanctions and new trade and investments in Burma if there is not an immediate cessation of attacks."
A statement of concern about the escalation, without specific mention of air attacks, was issued by a spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs on January 15, "The High Representative is deeply concerned about the continuous fighting in the Kachin State, putting at risk the nation-wide peace process and the gains already made. The latest reports of the shelling of Laiza and the resulting deaths of innocent civilians are particularly troubling. They point to a dangerous escalation of the conflict leading to more suffering for the people in Kachin. The High Representative urges all sides to end the hostilities and to engage in dialogue towards a settlement in earnest immediately. The EU also continues to stress the urgency of providing unhindered access for humanitarian relief to the displaced population."
CHRONOLOGY OF THE AIR WAR -- NEWS ITEMS DEC. 4, 2012 TO JAN. 18, 2013
Attack launched with helicopters in Pannwar Township, eastern Kachin State. 5 helicopters used for transport, 2 "shot 2 rounds at KIA positions" according to KIA spokesperson La Nan.
[Phophtaw News Assoc., Dec. 7]
"A series of battle took place between the two sides at border post no. 6 near Pang Wa in recent days. Burmese army reportedly fired rockets from two Russian-made Mi-24 attack helicopters on KIA's positions during battles between KIA's 33rd Battalion under 1st Brigade and a combined force of Burmese army's 88th LID and Northern Regional Command on Dec 10."
[Kachinland News, Dec. 14]
"Burmese army fired rockets from two Russian-made Mi-24 attack helicopters on KIA's positions during battles between KIA's 33rd Battalion under 1st Brigade and a combined force of Burmese army's 88th LID and Northern Regional Command at border post no. 6 near Pang Wa."
[Kachinland News, Jan. 5]
"Prior to launching its offensive in Lajayang, on 10 and 11 December 2012, the Burma Army used helicopters in an air strike in Lu Pi village, Pangwa Township, near the China-Burma border. LIB 37, 40 and 260, and Border Guard Forces carried out the attacked on Lu Pi. Attacks increased as the hours wore on, with 4 rounds of firing taking place on 10 December, followed by 8 airstrikes on 11 December."
[Free Burma Rangers, Dec. 26]
Major battle in vicinity of Lajayang village, Dawphoneyan sub-township, south of Laiza.
La Nan: "They sent in two MI-24 helicopter gunships which fired at us. This is the first time helicopter gunships have attacked us so close to Laiza."
[Mizzima, Dec. 14]
Helicopters seen from Laiza. La Nan: "It is the first time they came to fire at our bases near Laiza by using aircrafts." 3 Russian-made Mi 24 helicopter gunships.
[The Irrawaddy, Dec. 14]
Medevac helicopter hit by KIA fire and flew away trailing smoke, during La Ja Yang and Ja Pu battle.
[Jinghpaw Kasa, Dec. 14]
"According to local sources, as Burmese army suffered increasing combat casualties, three helicopters came to aid ground troops and fired rockets on KIA's positions for two times at 11 am and 2 pm on Dec 14. Local residents described helicopters as Russian-made Mi-24s as they can see two mounted stub wings capable of carrying rockets and automatic cannons. One helicopter was being shot by KIA and seen flew away with spewing black smoke."
[Kachinland News, Dec. 14]
"Three helicopters came to aid ground troops and fired rockets on KIA's positions near Laja-yang. Local residents described helicopters as Russian-made Mi-24s as they can see two mounted stub wings capable of carrying rockets and automatic cannons. One helicopter was being shot by KIA and seen flew away with spewing black smoke."
[Kachinland News, Jan. 5]
"Senior officials with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) claim that a Mi-8 helicopter belonging to the army was damaged considerably after being shot at by the KIA on Friday. The Russian built helicopter was last seen heading in the direction of Myitkyina with plumes of smoke bellowing out of it after having receiving sustained fire from KIA troops on the ground in Lajayang."
Kachin News Group, Dec. 17]
"Houses in some abandoned villages were destroyed by rocket fire during the government offensive, according to ABSDF troops on the frontlines."
[The Irrawaddy, Dec. 17]
"At 10:00 AM, and again at 2:00 PM on 14 December 2012, Burma Army troops used helicopters to launch rockets in their attack upon the KIA. Around 11:00 PM, Burma Army helicopters incorporated the use of both multi-rocket attacks and gunfire in their assault upon KIA troops, and then returned to their base. Villagers and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in and around Laiza could hear nonstop firing during the offensive.'
[Free Burma Rangers, Dec. 26]
"They made four passes with the helicopter yesterday [in Gang Dau Yang village]-that's the word from the frontline," says one KIA soldier.
[The Irrawaddy, Dec. 24]
Government attacks on KIA bases in Lajayang include deployment of 2 helicopter gunships and 5 jet planes. "Jet fighters" reported by Min Htay ABSDF to fly out of Myitkyina, "The jet fighters came at 9 am and fired countless rockets... It took about an hour... The jet fighters were very fast. They were red and white." The jets "shot at every KIA base in Lajayang." Min Htay: "We heard they [the government's army] hired professionals to come and shoot the KIA bases by jet fighters. But, we don't know who they hired."
[The Irrawaddy, Dec. 28]
According to La Nan, "Four aircraft attacked KIO positions in Laja Yang. The fighter planes began attacking at 9 am. Recently, they have used helicopter gunships, but this time it was fighter planes. They flew into Chinese airspace, then came round and fired on our troops at Laja Yang." Jet attack was "followed by helicopter gunships" according to La Sai of ABSDF.
[Mizzima, Dec. 28]
"Two attack helicopters first came at around 9:30 am and then another three helicopters came, said a Laiza resident. Russian-made attack helicopters fired rockets and machine guns on KIA positions near Laiza. A Laiza resident says the latest round of airstrikes is so close to civilians' areas as he can even see helicopters firing machine guns. The impact of the rocket is so strong that even a tree that has a person's waist size falls down after being hit, said a KIA frontline officer."
[Kachinland News, Dec. 28]
"Four fighter jets and two helicopters took part in an air assault on rebel positions near Laiza, the Kachin Independence Organization's de facto capital, on Friday morning. Throughout the morning military planes struck KIO positions in Lajayang, a key town located less than 10 miles south of Laiza."
[Kachin News Group, Dec. 28]
Min Htay: Government forces "launched an assault on Kum Shawng post, close to [the KIO-run] Mali hydropower plant. They were attacking with helicopters so the [KIA] had to withdraw. The power plant was damaged in the fight so it can no longer provide electricity to Myitkyina and Waingmaw."
Civilians in camps for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) around Laiza were advised to dig trenches to shelter in during helicopter attacks or artillery fire.
[Democratic Voice of Burma, Dec. 28]
"At 09:20 hrs, two fighter jets strafed the Kachin (KIA) positions in Lajaiyang with machine guns, dropped bombs, and fired rockets. They strafed the Kachin positions 11 times." "At 09:45 hrs two MI24 helicopters came and shot rockets and machineguns, the guns making two passes. The helicopters left and then came back with three helicopters at 10:10 and they attacked again for 30 minutes. During these attacks the Burma Air Force jets and MI24 attack helicopters also bombed, rocketed and strafed Kachin positions at Nam Sang Yang. During these attacks, the Burma Army dropped over 400 rounds of 120mm heavy mortar shells in and around Lajaiyang. and Nam Sam Yang." Report included photos of a jet, an Mi24 helicopter "firing rockets at Kachin positions," and houses burning/destroyed after helicopter attack.
[Free Burma Rangers, Dec. 29]
"On 28 December 2012 the Burma Army used 3 helicopters in an attack near Laiza. While dropping bombs and rockets upon villages in the area, the Burma Army destroyed the bridge that connects Myint Gyi Nah, Ba Maw and Laiza. This has crippled the transportation for locals. However, the Burma Army is not taking responsibility for the destruction of this bridge, alleging that the KIA (Kachin Independence Army) is responsible for the destruction of the bridge."
[Free Burma Rangers, Jan. 11]
"On December 30, the Burmese air force carried out an air strike against the KIA's military unit 771 based near Laja Yang Village, forcing some Kachin troops to retreat to fresh positions, according to ABSDF's Maj. Min Htay, adding that the rebel forces still have control of Laja Yang despite Burmese claims that they overran the base."
[Mizzima, Jan. 2]
"Burmese Government military air force shot  times of missile to the Laiza, KIO head quarter at 5:15 PM on 30th December according to KIA
officer report. But it was [meant to] hit to Laiza, but [instead] exploded at
the China teak farm. [Jinghpaw Kasa, Dec. 30]
"Speaking from the frontlines on Wednesday, Burmese war photographer John Sanlin said two rocket shellings landed Monday evening on the border with China's Yunnan Province, just opposite the town of Laiza in northern Kachin State... Hla Seng, a soldier from the All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF), an armed group fighting alongside Kachin rebels, confirmed that the shelling had landed on Chinese soil on Monday."
[The Irrawaddy, Jan. 2]
"12:45 pm the Burma military uses two Fighter jets - shooting machine guns, dropping bombs and using chemical munitions (possibly HC CS - or some form of tear gas/riot agent - we are not sure what it is but have found the containers... and so far no deaths from this). These attacks are in the La Ja Yang area; Bum Re and north west at Nam San Yang. Air attacks occurred 8 times."
[Free Burma Rangers, Jan. 3]
Battle "between KIA's Padang Sector troops and Burmese army's Mogaung-based 74th LIB near border post no. 6 on January 1 at 10 am. KIA source says Burmese army later reinforced its troops with infantry units from 13th LIB, 77th LIB and 301st LIR under 88th LID during the fighting with KIA's Padang Sector troops. At about 10:30 am, 5 government's fighter jets fired rockets and machine guns on KIA's Padang Sector troops."
"KIA's capital [Laiza] security forces fought against Burmese army's 317th LIR, 415th LIR, 416th LIR under Magway-based 88th LID near Laiza on Jan 1. During the ground battles, 2 Burmese army's fighter jets fired rockets and dropped bombs on KIA's positions at Bum-re hill, Laja-yang and Hka-ya villages at 9:30 am."
"Two helicopters again fired rockets and dropped bombs on KIA's positions near Laiza at 1:45 pm, reported KIA frontline source."
[Kachinland News, Jan. 2]
Min Htay: "Hostilities broke out this morning [Wednesday] when the Burmese army launched an assault from the direction of Nam Sang Yawng. The fighting started at about 8 am. Then at 11:30, the aircraft attacked. Later, two helicopter gunships came and fired on us." Laiza resident observed jets overhead and heard them attack. Myitkyina resident observed "Burmese military planes and helicopters" flying "almost every day for the past week."
[Mizzima, Jan. 2]
"On Tuesday, [Hla Seng] said, jet fighters and helicopters attacked KIA bases in Lajayang and Nasam Yang regions three times."
[The Irrawaddy, Jan. 2]
"At 10:10 am, one Mi24 Attack Helicopter Shoots rockets, machine guns and drop bombs at Pang Wa area. Pang Wa is north of Laiza in the KIO/KIA first brigade and Fifth Brigade area near the China border."
"At 1:40 pm two helicopters shoot rockets, machine guns and drop bombs on the Kachin positions there. At 5 pm, two fighter jets shoot machine guns and drop bombs eight times on eight passes."
[Free Burma Rangers, Jan. 3]
"China's air force issued a statement on Saturday saying no Myanmarese jets have entered Chinese territory. The statement came in response to reports that Myanmarese fighter jets had mistakenly entered China after armed conflict broke out in northern Myanmar. According to the statement, China's air force has tightened surveillance over territorial air across the China-Myanmar border since the conflict began. The closest Myanmarese jets are five kilometers away from the border."
[Xinhua, Jan. 6]
"[Hla Seng] said the fighting was continuing on Wednesday morning, with the government army sending four helicopter gunships, including Mi-24s, to fire on KIA bases at about 11 am in Lajayang"
Hla Seng: "They [the government army] have been attacking us non-stop by using the planes for six days. Now, they're heating up the war by using jet fighters, helicopter gunships, artillery weapons and chemical weapons."
[The Irrawaddy, Jan. 2]
"On Jan 2, two Burmese army's Russian-made attack helicopters fired rockets and dropped bombs on KIA camps for two rounds during a battle against KIA's capital security forces at an area between Bumre hill and Hka-ya hill."
[Kachinland News, Jan. 5]
"At 11:45 in La Ja Yang-Laiza-Nam Sang Yang areas, two Burma Airforce fighter jets shoot machine guns and drop bombs three times. On the same day three Mi 24 Attack Helicopters shoot rockets and drop bombs and shoot machine guns four times."
"A total of 3 helicopters and 2 jets rocketed and machine-gunned KIO/KIA positions in La Ja Yang (10 km South West of Laiza) and Nam Sang Yang (13 km North West of Laiza). Air attacks started on 14 Dec but have increased in tempo from 23 Dec 2012 through 2 Jan 2013."
"Grid coordinates of some of the areas the Burma military is attacking near Laiza:
Bum Re(N-24' 45'27.1"E-97'29'28.5"), Nam San(N-24'52'30.9"E-97'29'52.1"), HKa Ya(N-24'46'10.3" E-97'30'36.4"), La Ja Yang(N-24'43'55.5"E-97'29'32.0").
Burma Army units in this area: Divisions 88 and MOC 21"
[Free Burma Rangers, Jan. 3]
"Heavy airstrikes" against KIA "for the seventh consecutive day."
Hla Seng: "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."
[The Irrawaddy, Jan. 4]
According to La Nan, "two government fighter planes launched rocket attacks on Thursday, following several days of strafing and bombing by fighter planes and helicopters."
[Associated Press, Jan. 4]
"Two Burmese army fighter jets reportedly fired on KIA positions during a battle between KIA's 23rd Battalion and an unknown Burmese army infantry unit at Bumre hill near Namsan-yang on Jan 3, said a front line source."
[Kachinland News, Jan. 5]
"Point 771, a KIA outpost... seized by the Burmese government army on Jan. 3 following airstrikes on KIA targets."
[The Irrawaddy, Jan. 8]
"Two Burmese army's fighter jets fired KIA positions on Friday during a battle with KIA's 3rd Brigade at Gung Ding Man Win in Gara-yang area. The fierce battle lasted for about 4 hours. A local source says both sides suffered high casualties in this battle. The exact number of casualties has not yet reported by either side."
[Kachinland News, Jan. 5]
"On 6 January 2013, the Burma Army attacked Nam San Yang village, where there is no KIA presence. KIA troops near the area estimate that approximately 300 Burma Army troops came to the village, and burned many homes. The number of people who have been injured because of these attacks is unknown, but sources on the ground recently reported news of a fatality and several injuries sustained during an air strike." [note: unclear from report if civilian casualties from airstrike were on Jan. 6 or at another time.]
[Free Burma Rangers, Jan. 11]
Min Htay "reaffirmed claims that government forces gave close air support to ground troops during the battle at Laja Yang from December 28 to January 3, but that no air support was evident between January 4 and January 6. He said that three helicopter gunships resumed attacks on KIO positions on January 7 at 3:30 pm. 'Three helicopter gunships hovered above Hillock 771,' he told Mizzima. 'Two gunships fired from the air while one landed. It rearmed with ammunition and fired on nearby KIO troops from the air.'"
[Mizzima, Jan. 8]
"..two KIA outposts on the hills of In Ta Bum and Hpun Pyan Bum, within the area controlled by KIA Brigade No. 5, have borne the brunt of Tuesday's [Jan. 8] offensive, which has included aerial attacks that began on Monday [Jan. 7] afternoon." "According to Min Htay, two fighter jets and three helicopter gunships attacked Lajayang again on Tuesday, in a half-hour assault that began at around 2 pm. Several houses had reportedly burned down after being hit by rockets, he said."
[The Irrawaddy, Jan. 8]
"On Jan 7, two government fighter jets and three helicopters fired with rockets and machine guns and dropped bombs on KIA positions around Hpunpyen hill, N-tap hill and Hka-ya for two times at around 4:30 pm."
"Two Burmese army helicopters fired with rockets and machine guns on KIA's capital security forces currently stationed at Hpunpyen hill and Laja-yang area on Jan 8 at 3:30 pm. Burmese army's rockets from helicopters reportedly hit Marau La Nan's temporary house." Owner was an IDP who
had "a small makeshift tent shop near Laja-yang gate selling food and other items to local travelers."
[Kachinland News, Jan. 9]
Clashes "between KIA's capital security forces and Burmese army troops under Mong Nawng-based MOC-2 at Dung Hkung and Hpunpyen hill on Jan 8. The two sides engaged in fierce fighting for two times beginning 5:45 am. Burmese army's fighter jets supported ground troops for four times during the battles by firing rockets and dropping bombs from air. Hpunpyen hill is a strategically located near Dawhpum-yang and important for security of KIO administrative capital Laiza."
[Kachinland News, Jan. 9]
"There was a dreadfully battle between KIA patriotic soldiers and intruder Burmese Government troops on Hpun Pyen mountain, it is KIA (24) battalion region and which is under (5th) brigade area Eastern Kachin state, since last three days ago according to the KIA front line officer report. Not only the huge ground troops but also military air force of (5) jet fighter attacking, KIA released (24) battalion's out post, La Kang mountain, on 08 January. But this morning [Jan. 9], KIA fought severely to get back of La Kang Mountain and now the Burmese Government troops are trapped on the La Kang Mountain..."
[Jinghpaw Kasa, Jan. 9]
"...attacks have occurred in Hpum Pyen Bum, a KIA camp in Ba Maw
District, Daw Hpung Yang Township (Located at: N 24° 41' 40.1" E 97° 28' 59.4"). 300 Burma Army soldiers from Divisions 88 and 101 began attacking the camp with mortar fire at 4:00 AM on 7 January 2013 and took over the camp on 8 January 2013 at 4:30 PM. Three Mi24 helicopters and 4 fixed-wing aircraft supported the operation with direct fire. KIA troops retreated when the air strikes began, and are maintaining a nearby position. From Hpum Pyen Bum, the Burma Army have a view of Laiza and the surrounding area."
[Free Burma Rangers, Jan. 11]
KIA claims shot down a helicopter; Government presidential spokesman, Ye Htut, says engine failure caused an "emergency landing" 20 miles (48 kilometers) south of Myitkyina." "Another senior official... identified the helicopter as an Mi-35, which is a Soviet-made gunship. He said two pilots were on board."
[Associated Press, Jan. 11]
"KIA shot down one of the Burmese Government's helicopter on 11st January. According to KIA front line officer report, one of the military helicopter, that especially for offensive from air, sending the soldiers to the front line area, and carrying for military weapons, was shot down by Ba Tawng, KIA's patriotic soldier, at 03:00 PM on that day, and that helicopter was MI-35 and pilot was from the DSA (38) batch and the military helicopter was crashed down in KIA controlled area." DSA = Defense Services Academy
[Jinhgpaw Kasa, Jan. 11]
"On Friday, Kachin rebels claimed they shot down one of the army's Russian-made Mi-35 helicopter gunships. The government confirmed that the helicopter had crashed but said the accident had occurred due to engine failure. Three soldiers on board were reportedly killed. Following the crash, Kachin rebels feared the government might prepare heavy, retaliatory strikes."
[The Irrawaddy, Jan. 14]
"Two pilots and a flight sergeant died when an MI-35 helicopter gunship crashed near Talawgyi, about 20 miles south of Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, on January 11. Burmese state-run media reported that the military helicopter crashed when it tried to make an emergency landing due to engine failure. The state-run newspaper New Light of Myanmar said on Sunday that the military helicopter left Myitkyina Airbase on a "security and administrative mission" and made an emergency landing in the forest south of Myitkyina. However, sources close to the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) claim that the Kachin army shot down the helicopter."
[Mizzima, Jan. 14]
"Burmese Government troops, from Sing Lung, shelled continuously with heavy artillery weapon of 105MM and 120 MM, to the Jang Mai and La Gat mountain post, which is KIA (21) battalion area and KIA (3rd) brigade region from last three days according to KIA frontline officer report. Moreover, Burmese military air force jet fighter fired with missiles and machine gun to the KIA posts on the noon and evening time on 13rd January."
[Jinghpaw Kasa, Jan. 14]
"Fighter jets" "spotted flying over the city, as well as over the town of Mai Ja Yang and the IDP camps at Je Yang and Hpung Lum Yang, though no air strikes have been reported."
[Mizzima, Jan. 14]
Tatmadaw ground troops attack KIA hilltop posts, Kha Rha and Lim Bum; Min Htay "said in the course of the fighting the Burmese army called in airstrikes to hit the two positions, which are located less than 10 kilometers northwest of Laiza..." Min Htay: "At 2:30 pm, two fighter jets dropped bombs at the Kha Ra hill post and Lim Bum hill post."
[The Irrawaddy, Jan. 15]
La Nan: "At 2:15 p.m. two jets launched an air strike at Hka Ya Bum... After the jets left the area, a ground battle broke out again." "The government's military jets were spotted by the KIO's third brigade again on [Jan. 15] but they did not another launch air strike, the spokesman said." Min Htay: "The two aircrafts carried out a military offensive near Hka Ya Bum in support of [the Burmese army troops]. At 4 p.m., they came back [to Hka Ya Bum] and carried out an air strike."
[Mizzima, Jan. 16]
"At 4:19 pm, the Burmese army could be seen launching a combined aerial, artillery and troop assault on Hwkya Bhum mountaintop. Soon after, Burmese army artillery units began a prolonged barrage on KIA positions at Upper Lajayang."
[The Irrawaddy, January 18, 2013]
"On Jan 17, KIA's 23rd Battalion under 5th Brigade fought against a combined force of Burmese army's infantry units from 10 mobile battalions and other light infantry units at Hkaya hill, a strategic hill near Laiza. Two government's fighter jets dropped bombs on KIA positions at Hkaya hill for half an hour beginning 4:15 pm. Two other fighter jets again fired on KIA positions at 4:45 pm, said a local source."
"Burmese army has continuously re-enforced its frontline units and transported military equipment to area close to Laiza town. Burmese army's helicopters transported 105mm hotwizer mortars from their base in Hkangkai hill to Manmau hill where government troops currently occupied beginning 2 pm on Jan 17."
[Kachinland News, January 18, 2013]
January 18, 2013
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