Reports emerged Wednesday that Myanmar’s army shelled a Kachin rebel camp in the country’s north, killing 23 people and injuring 15. According to Kachin State’s security minister, the shell was fired as a warning shot and was not intended to strike rebel positions. The Myanmar government and the Kachin rebels are currently in the middle of a peace process, beginning with ceasefire talks that could be derailed by this incident. The attack targeted a rebel base in Laiza, along the Myanmar-China border. According to an Associated Press report, the shelling resulted in skirmishes “that lasted the whole day.”
The AP cites La Nan, a spokesman for the Kachin Independence Army, who notes that the government knew that it was targeting an active officer training academy with the shelling. According to the report, “La Nan said the army fired from a nearby hilltop about 50 kilometers (30 miles from) outside Laiza.” The spokesman added that the attack was an ”unprovoked and a deliberate attack because (government soldiers) could clearly see our troops doing military training.” While fighting between Kachin insurgents and the Myanmar government resumed in 2011 after a 17 year truce, the Myanmar government under President Thein Sein has been working toward a peace deal with the group. According to the spokesman, this attack represents the highest death toll that Kachin insurgents have endured in a government attack in the past three years. In sum, 300 rebel fighters have been killed and an additional 400 wounded since 2011.
So far, the government’s official response has been to deny that it was deliberately targeting the officer training academy. It remains to be seen if that explanation will be enough to convince the Kachin rebels to push on with peace talks. Given the severity of the attack, it is likely that this could set back the peace process with the government. Based on current reports, it remains unclear if the decision to strike the rebel stronghold was delivered from Nay Pyi Taw or made by a field commander with orders from the state government. Despite Myanmar’s place in the international spotlight recently following its hosting of the East Asia Summit and comments made by U.S. President Barack Obama regarding its political reforms, this incident highlights the government’s ongoing struggle with various rebel groups.