LAIZA, Burma — Officials with the armed-wing of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) say Burma government forces are massing in preparation for what appears to be an upcoming assault on Laiza, the KIO's de facto capital.
The army has focused its buildup efforts on Lajayang, located less than 5 miles by road from Laiza, according to the officials who requested anonymity. According to reports from the field the army recently sent 120 mm artillery to Lajayang and other positions surrounding Laiza.
As the crow flies Laiza is less than 3 miles from Lajayang, if the army starts to fire heavy artillery from Lajayang, Lazia could be seriously damaged.
Apart from Lajayang, the last few weeks have also seen a significant buildup of government troops at other strategic locations along the Myitkyina to Bhamo (Manmaw) road. Fresh Burma army troops were recently sent from bases in both Myitkyina and Bhamo, to Burmese positions along this key transportation route.
Last Thursday over 200 Burmese troops arrived in Bhamo (Manmaw) on boats from lower Burma. They are destined for front-line army positions near Laiza, according to sources in the area.
Last week also saw heavy fighting along the Myitkyina-Bhamo road at N’Pawn and at Gangdau Yang, both located near strategic KIO strongholds.
Laiza largest center for refugees in Kachin state
Situated smack on the Sino-Burma border, Laiza is home to the bulk of internally displaced people made homeless by the 10-month long Kachin offensive. Recent estimates put the total refugee population in the Laiza area at more than 25,000.
The fall of Laiza would almost certainly lead to a large scale refugee crisis, not seen in Burma since the Karen National Union lost vast stretches of its territory in the early 1990's. The UN and its related agencies have visited Laiza only once since the conflict began last year. Most of the refugee relief effort in Laiza is coordinated by the KIO and local aid groups.
Burma army loses 300 soldiers since near year
More than 300 government soldiers have been killed in fighting in Kachin state since the beginning of the year, according to Burma army sources.
Kachin Independence Army (KIA) officials based in Laiza told the Kachin News Group (KNG) that they believe the actual figure of government troops lost is likely higher than this Burma army estimate.
Since the beginning of March, the Burma army lost more than 100 soldiers during fighting at N’Pawn and Gangdau Yang, according to a senior KIA official.
Another ranking KIA official based in the Mai Ja Yang area told the Kachin News Group “we aren't trying to kill the Burmese regular soldiers because they are just conscripts, but when they come at us we must defend ourselves.”
According to this official who has been in the KIA for more than 30 years, many of the government troops who have fallen at the hands of the KIA appeared to be taking needless risks, like charging at well defended KIA positions. He believes this is an indication that many of the soldiers were high on amphetamines or some other drug when they were sent into battle.
Dozens of government troops have also been killed in fighting with the KIA in five townships in north western Shan state--- Namtu, Mandong, Kutkai, Muse and Mungkoe, according to a KIA officer based in Shan state.
The bulk of the military clashes in Shan state have taken place along a stretch of territory between Namtu and Mandong townships where twin oil and gas pipelines are currently under construction. When completed the Shwe gas pipeline project will send fuel from Burma's Arakan coast to China’s Yunnan province.
According to KIA sources the number of government troops lost over the past 10 months could be as high as 3,000. The total Burma army death toll remains impossible to know for sure due to the nature of the conflict, KIA soldiers often don't know whether they've struck a fatal hit or simply injured their opponent.
For its part the Burmese army has not released causality figures from its Kachin offensive and has rarely done so throughout its dubious 60-year history.