LAIZA, Burma — More than 1,500 Kg of rice recently harvested by farmers in war-torn Kachin state were set ablaze by government troops last week in Waingmaw township on the Myitkyina-Bhamo (Manmaw) road, eyewitnesses report.
Soldiers from the Meiktila-based Light Infantry Division No. 88 were seen on February 16 and 17 ransacking a series of rice paddies in Mali Yang village. The arson attack followed heavy fighting in the area between the Burmese army and troops belonging to Brigade 5 of the Kachin Independence Army.
According to a local villager, the farms belonging to three separate families were destroyed, Kachin News Group has omitted the names of the individuals for their safety. The largest loss came after a storage hut housing approximately 1,050 Kg rice burned to the ground. Two families nearby lost 525 Kg and 63 Kg of rice when their farms and homes were also torched.
Looting or destroying farmer's harvest is a common tactic deployed by Burma's army to carry out collective punishment in conflict zones. Recent reports released by Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights show that civilians in Kachin and northern Shan state have borne the brunt of the army's nine month offensive against the Kachin Independence Organization.
Atrocities against civilians continue to mount in February
In stark contrast to the Thein Sein government's self described democratic reforms the country's armed forces continued to kill unarmed civilians this month. On February 2, troops from the Meiktila-based Light Infantry Battalion No. 113 shot an unarmed Kachin couple in Han Htet village Manje (Mansi) township in southern Manmaw (Bhamo) district.
Nam Gam who was walking to his rice paddy was fatally wounded during the incident which left his wife severely injured. According to eyewitnesses Nam Gam's shooting was unprovoked.
Although the conflict between the KIO and government troops saw a brief lull earlier this year, the intensity of the fighting has gradually increased over the past few weeks. Fighting has been particularly intense in northern Shan State along the proposed route of the Shwe gas pipeline project.
Peace talks between the two sides which were expected to be held last week failed to occur after the Burmese government delegation objected to meeting again in China.