29 dead as blast hits camp of civilians on Myanmar-China border

Dozens more were injured in what Kachin forces say was an airstrike near their HQ.
By Ye Kaung Myint Maung for RFA Burmese
2023.10.10
29 dead as blast hits camp of civilians on Myanmar-China border A man walks through the wreckage of the Munglai Hkyet Internally Displaced Persons camp, hit by a junta airstrike on the night of Oct. 9, 2023.
Awng Ja (Simsa Kasa Multimedia)

Updated Oct. 10, 2023, 02:39 p.m. ET.

Twenty-nine people were killed, including 11 children, when junta air forces dropped a bomb on a displaced persons camp in northern Kachin state, a Kachin Independence Army information officer told Radio Free Asia Tuesday. 

Col. Naw Bu said all of the victims were internally displaced people living near Lai Zar in the mountainous border area between Kachin state and China.

Lai Zar is the headquarters of the KIA, which has fought the Burmese military for decades and controls areas of northern Myanmar. Naw Bu claimed the junta was targeting the HQ in the attack, which happened around midnight local time on Monday.

There were 11 children among the dead, who were buried on Tuesday. The 57 injured people have been taken to a nearby hospital. Officials in Lai Zar are still searching for the missing and dead and the identities of those killed is still being investigated.

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Bodies lined up at the Munglai Hkyet Internally Displaced Persons camp near the Kachin Independence Army's headquarters in Lai Zar town, Kachin state after an airstrike on the night of Oct. 9, 2023. Credit: Awng Ja (Simsa Kasa Multimedia)

Naw Bu told RFA that this was not the junta’s usual style of attack. Although the military often fires at Lai Zar with heavy artillery from Burmese army camps at Bum Re Bum and Hka Ya Bum, he said that this bombing may have been carried out by a drone. 

“It was not heavy artillery. Something like a plane or a drone. If it was by a jet, its sound could have been heard,” he told RFA, adding that he wasn’t sure yet what type of bomb had been dropped.

He suggested that the military "is threatening us ... so that we join their peace talks" with other ethnic armies.

RFA was unable to independently verify what type of weaponry had been used in the attack.

'There is nothing left for them'

A resident of Lai Zar who was providing assistance told RFA that the injured were still being transported to the hospital as of noon on Tuesday.

“I saw little children injured and breastfeeding infants left by mothers who’ve been killed," said the resident who, like others interviewed by RFA for this report, spoke on condition of anonymity citing fear of reprisal. "We need to provide assistance for these children."

The resident said that in addition to the 57 injured, "there may be more who did not get to the hospital because the whole refugee camp was wiped out and blown away by the attack."

Another resident who witnessed the attack said that many homes had been destroyed in the attack by what he described as "highly destructive bombs."

"Those who live in the camp no longer have homes -- there is nothing left for them," the resident said. "The bomb left a lake-sized hole in the earth."

He said the attack had also damaged a local church, a preschool building, and the village school.

"All the people at home when the bomb hit died on the spot," he added.

Targeting civilians

Deputy Information Minister Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun denied that the junta carried out the attack.

"Think about whether bombardment or artillery shelling near the border area at midnight is possible or not,” he told state-controlled media.

“We can attack any rebel headquarters but we don’t do it.”

The junta spokesman claimed only the KIA uses drones to drop bombs in the area, in order to attack junta troops.

The United Nations in Myanmar said it was “deeply concerned” by reports civilians, including women and children, were killed and injured.

“IDP [Internally Displaced Persons] camps are places of refuge, and civilians, no matter where they are, should never be a target,” the U.N. said on its Facebook page.

Tom Andrews, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, told RFA in an interview that the incident at the camp is "one more brutal attack on innocent civilians" and "part of the massive campaign of violence against civilians by the military junta."

He called the attack and others like it "probable war crimes."

Jacob, the head of the group Kachin Human Rights Watch, told RFA that the attack was the latest attempt by the military to "wipe out ethnic groups" and that the junta "must take full responsibility for it."

"Many civilians have been killed by these kinds of highly destructive weapons and airstrikes," he said. "The junta is fully responsible for these attacks and must be held accountable."

KIO under attack

The attack comes nearly a year after the military dropped four bombs into a crowd in Hpakant as the Kachin Independence Organization celebrated its 62nd anniversary. At least 50 were killed and 100 were wounded in the airstrike. 

The Kachin Independence Organization is the political wing of the KIA, which has stepped up its resistance since the Burmese military seized power of Myanmar in a coup against an elected government in February 2021.

The village where displaced people in Kachin state are sheltering is 3.2 kilometers (2 miles) from Lai Zar. 

The border area was a site of heavy fighting in late June when junta forces attempted to capture Lai Zar using heavy artillery.

According to a U.N. report, as of late September Kachin state had over 93,000 internally displaced people. Waingmaw township, where Lai Zar is located, is home to over 20,000 of them living in some two dozen camps.

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Mike Firn.

Updated to raise mention that the blast hit a displaced persons' camp and to include additional comments from residents, rights groups and U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar Tom Andrews.

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