KIA rejects Myanmar junta’s claims regarding Laiza tragedy

While the military council maintains that IDPs in the area were killed in an accident, locals and KIA investigators’ accounts indicate an attack using artillery and drones

The Myanmar military council claimed that an accidental explosion killed dozens of victims in a Kachin State village near the country’s border with China earlier this week, contradicting accounts from the ethnic armed group that administers the area and survivors who spoke with Myanmar Now.

Bombs detonated near midnight on Monday in Munglai Hkyet village, the location of a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) near Laiza, Kachin State on the China-Myanmar border. At least 29 IDPs, including 11 children, were killed and at least 57 others were injured in the blasts. 

Military council spokesperson Maj-Gen. Zaw Min Tun on Tuesday denied accusations that the military had carried out an attack on the village, which is located some three miles north of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) command’s headquarters in Laiza. 

In a statement issued the next day, the military council said that there had been explosions at a warehouse used for storing ammonium nitrate—a compound used in fertilisers and some explosives—located on a KIA training compound near Munglai Hkyet. 

The statement, which cited the military council’s “key informants” and intelligence sources on the ground, claimed that the warehouse held 105 tons of ammonium nitrate and other explosives.

The military claimed that the explosive materials belonged to one civilian as well as several leading officials of the KIA, and that the cause of the accident was unknown. 

Citing its own investigation, the KIA repeatedly reaffirmed its claim that the incident was an attack by the military council, and dismissed the junta’s accusation about an ammonium nitrate explosion. 

“There is no explosives warehouse near there. The place where the bombs fell was where the football field was located; it’s just to the side of a road. There are no explosives or weapons stored there. There’s nothing. There’s no truth in their accusations,” said KIA spokesperson Col. Naw Bu on Wednesday afternoon.

Two local women confirmed that the field where the incident occurred was used for playing football, adding that it had also been used as a marketplace for farm produce during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Munglai Hkyet village, founded over 40 years ago, is inhabited by both locals native to the area and people displaced by recent fighting between the military and locally active armed groups. 

The village, which was initially made up of around 50 households, has grown to over 100 households since 2011 due to the arrival of IDPs fleeing violence in other parts of Waingmaw Township and Kachin State, local sources said.

A mourning family member of one of the victims following the attack on Munglai Hkyet IDP camp, seen on October 10 (CJ)

A 16-month-old girl, five boys and six girls between three and 18 years old, and 18 adults between 30 and 70 were among those killed by the explosions. The IDP camp was effectively destroyed in the incident.

Citing initial investigations by the KIA, the armed group’s spokesperson Col. Naw Bu told Myanmar Now that the military had used 120mm heavy artillery shells as well as unmanned drones.

According to the KIA spokesperson, the attacks had been launched from identified junta bases on hilltops around four miles west of the Munglai Hkyet camp. 

“We have evidence that the drones and helicopters landed on those hills,” Col. Naw Bu said.

“They fired artillery before and after the bombs detonated. The investigations team said it appeared they used very high-tech drones to drop the bombs,” said Col. Naw Bu, adding that the KIA had assigned a special investigative team to collect information about the incident. 

The destroyed Munglai Hkyet IDP camp, seen on October 10 (CJ)

Response from the international community

The publicly mandated National Unity Government (NUG)—a shadow government effectively forced to operate in border regions and in exile abroad—denounced the attack, calling for more decisive action from foreign governments to hold the junta accountable. 

“The terrorist military council has taken advantage of the moment of the international community’s attention on the recent developments of the Israel-Hamas conflict to commit yet another crime against humanity and war crime,” the NUG said in a statement on Tuesday. 

Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs, answered a question from Reuters referring to the incident as an artillery strike during a routine press conference on Tuesday.

“We call on relevant parties to resolve disputes peacefully through dialogue and consultation, avoid escalation of the situation, and take concrete and effective measures to ensure security at the Chinese-Myanmar border,” the Chinese official said.

A spokesperson for the United Nations Secretary General also issued a public statement on Tuesday regarding the tragedy.

“The Secretary-General is alarmed by reports of the killing of dozens of civilians—including internally displaced persons, many of them women and children—in a bombing in Myanmar’s Kachin State on 9 October.  Those responsible must be held to account,” the UN spokesperson said.  

The statement went on to condemn the ongoing violence in Myanmar, urging neighbouring countries to exert their influence to end it. 

“We are deeply concerned by reports of a Burma military attack on an internally displaced persons camp near Mung Lai Hkyet village in Kachin State on October 9. Early reports indicate dozens of civilians were killed,” said United States Department of State spokesperson Matthew Miller the day after the incident, referring to Myanmar by an older name. 

“The United States will continue to support the people of Burma and all those working peacefully to support their aspirations for peace and inclusive democracy,” he added.  

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