Many Kachin people across the world took to social media on Saturday to express their anger and outrage following the death of five Kachin civilians in northern Shan State’s Kutkai Township on Saturday amid heavy fighting between the Myanmar army and forces from the Northern Alliance.
In the wake of the tragedy scores of Kachin Facebook users changed their profile pictures to show their solidarity with the dead civilians. The deaths occurred on Saturday as government representatives and the Northern Alliance met in the eastern Shan State town of Kengtung for talks.
While the army has yet to comment on the deaths, a brief joint statement of condolences was released late Saturday by three members of the ethnic armed alliance who were engaged in hostilities with the military in Kutkai and across much of the northern Shan State. The statement issued by the Arakan Army (AA), the Kokang based Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) reported that five civilians were killed by 122mm shells fired by troops from the Tatmadaw’s Infantry Battalion 241 based in Kutkai. According to the statement, the deaths happened around 11:00 a.m Saturday morning.
According to villagers from the area Sumlut Htoi Ja, a 34-year-old mother died alongside her 14-year-old daughter Zahkung Nang Pan and her nine-year-old son Zahkung Hkun Lat. Lajin Lu San, an 18-year-old mother and her young baby Lasham Seng Hkawn were also killed.
Reached for comment Mai Mai, an aid worker based in the area with the Humanitarian Strategic Team – Northern Shan State (HST – NSS), explained that three of the civilians died instantly while the other two succumbed to their injuries later. “One of three shells landed on a house. Three people were killed on the spot and five injured villagers were transferred to Kutkai public hospital. Then two villagers died when they were receiving medical treatment in hospital,” Mai Mai told the Kachin News Group (KNG).
According to Mai Mai, the fighting began the previous evening in Mohik, or Mawhik village at around 7 pm. Both sides resumed firing heavy weapons around 10:00 a.m on Saturday. She also said that three other injured villagers have been receiving medical treatment at the Kutkai Hospital.
Those on the ground in northern Shan State report that clashes have occurred almost daily in Lashio, Kutkai, and Namphetka since August 15th.
A funeral for those killed in the shelling was held at a Christian cemetery in Kutkai on Sunday, attracting a large crowd of mourners.
The civilian deaths occurred as representatives from both Myanmar’s government and the political wings of the TNLA, AA, MNDAA and Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) met in the eastern Shan State town of Kengtung for talks. The government side was represented by a team from the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre (NRPC), which included Peace Commission Vice Chairman Thein Zaw and Khin Zaw Oo, both retired senior military officials.
The talks took place at the Amazing Keng Tong Resort, a hotel controversially built on the grounds of the Kengtung Palace which was torn down in 1991. A move that was strongly opposed by many Shan people in the area who held the building which used to be the home of the local Saopha and was considered to be of major historical and cultural significance because of its unique design and interiors boasting intricately carved lacquered teak. The palace was destroyed by the newly installed State Law and Order Restoration Council, or SLORC regime ostensibly to make way for the hotel which many Shan locals claim is still cursed. The hotel has been described by one repeat international visitor to the picturesque town as a “decrepit overpriced eyesore, with tiny cell-like rooms more reminiscent of a prison than a resort”.
A statement released by all parties following the meeting claimed that endeavors were underway to end the long-running conflict. “At the meeting matters relating to stopping as soon as possible ongoing armed engagements were discussed with the aim of signing a Bilateral Ceasefire Agreement.”, the Joint communiqué said. “Efforts will be made with full political will by both sides towards stopping as soon as possible ongoing armed engagements for national reconciliation and Union peace,” added the statement which was printed in the state-run Global Light of Myanmar newspaper.