Burma: Fresh air strike deaths in Kachin State as 'humanitarian crisis' looms

Burma must take all possible steps to avoid civilian casualties in Kachin state, Amnesty International has said, after three people were killed in air strikes reportedly carried out by Burma’s armed forces in the region.

Equally,  Amnesty is urging the Kachin Independence Army (KIA)  to ensure that they do not position potential military targets near civilian areas, and that they fully respect international humanitarian law. 

On Monday, three civilians, including one young teenager, were killed in an air strike which was reportedly carried out by the Burmese armed forces in the Kachin town of Laiza. Four others, two Children's rights and two women, were injured in the attack.

Laiza, a town on the border with China, is used as the de facto headquarters of the KIA.

Amnesty International Deputy Asia-Pacific Director Isabelle Arradon said:

“Both the army and the KIA must ensure that civilians caught in the conflict area are protected. The three tragic deaths in Laiza show that there are real concerns that civilian lives might be at risk if indiscriminate fire is used.

“We urge the Burmese authorities to immediately launch an investigation into the attack on 14 January and to determine if international laws of war were violated.

“It is absolutely vital that there are no restrictions on aid groups and others trying to reach people in need of assistance as a result of the on-going conflict. There is a real risk of a humanitarian crisis in the region.”

The current conflict between the Burmese army and the KIA started in June 2011 after a 17-year ceasefire broke down, and the fighting intensified last November. The KIA, the military wing of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), is calling for increased Kachin autonomy. It is the only significant armed group in Burma with which the authorities have failed to reach a ceasefire agreement.

In December, the army launched a new operation in Kachin state. Military helicopters and aeroplanes have been flying low over towns and camps for internally displaced people in the KIA-controlled area since early January, causing extreme fear amongst civilians, including Children's rights. Ethnic Kachin civilians have reported that the Burmese armed forces carried out air strikes near two towns in eastern and northern KIA-controlled areas in mid-December and air strikes near the town of Laiza on 24 December.

The conflict has left more than 75,000 people displaced and requiring shelter in camps. Throughout 2012, the Burmese authorities were reportedly restricting humanitarian access to the camps in the KIA-controlled areas, leaving people with insufficient food and inadequate sanitation.

Amnesty has received credible reports that the army has committed multiple human rights violations against Kachin civilians, including extrajudicial executions, torture and other ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, forced labour and sexual violence.

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