BANGKOK — Government air strikes and shelling of ethnic Kachin rebels in northern Myanmar have killed five civilians and wounded more than a dozen others since the weekend, a lawmaker and activists said Tuesday. The government offensive has also trapped more than 3,000 other civilians, miners of amber and their families, in mineral-rich Kachin state, they said.
Regional lawmaker La Seng said the injured included several civilians being treated at a hospital in Kachin state’s Tanai township. Local religious leader Je Di, a Baptist minister, said the miners were kept from fleeing to safer areas by military checkpoints blocking the roads out.
Local civil society groups said they are negotiating with the northern army commander to try to rescue the trapped civilians.
“The army commander has not given permission for us to go and evacuate these people who are trapped,” said Gum Ja of the Peace Talk Creation Group based in Kachin state. “This is not the first time the army is doing this and they don’t care that the lives of civilians are in their hands.”
The Kachin Independence Army, along with about a dozen other armed ethnic groups, has been fighting for greater autonomy from the central government. An uneasy peace ended in 2011 when fighting erupted between the Kachin army and the government military, leaving hundreds killed and more than 100,000 civilians displaced.
Myanmar’s military has been accused of decades of human rights violations against ethnic minority groups. Most recently, it has been accused of abuses in what it calls “clearance operations” against ethnic Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine, from which nearly 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh. The United Nations and the U.S describe the army’s crackdown as “ethnic cleansing.”
Increasing hostilities in both Kachin state and Shan state, also in the north, have put at risk a national peace process led by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi.