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ICC Note: Kachin state continues to fear attacks from the Burmese army as they push forward with the goal of establishing an autonomous homeland for the Kachin people, a tiny Christian minority group in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Laiza is one of the few cities in Myanmar where Kachin can practice their culture and worship freely. Nevertheless, situated between the Chinese border and the rest of Myanmar, Laiza does not have much control over its safety. Luckily, the fact that China needs Kachin state for its future economic projects at least provides some safety to Kachin people. 

12/08/2017 Myanmar (Guardian) –Laiza is a city under siege – sort of. On one side of this remote, mountainous but important settlement in Myanmar’s breakaway Kachin state lurks the dreaded Burmese army. On the other, marking the city limits, is the Chinese border. “People are worried,” says Dau Hku, an official with the rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which controls Laiza as the de facto capital of its small and shifting breakaway territory. “Everyone knows we are within shelling range.”

In theory, the Burmese army – known as the Tatmadaw – could attack the city at any moment, and in theory, Laizans would have nowhere to run. Most people aren’t officially allowed to cross the border into China.

The reality, though, is more complicated. For nearly 60 years the KIA has fought the Burmese government for control of Kachin state, with the goal of establishing an autonomous homeland for the Kachin people, a tiny Christian minority in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. They have been surprisingly effective, in part because the region’s difficult terrain and complicated geopolitics – the Chinese are major investors in Kachin state and support both sides – discourage the Burmese army from waging all-out war. Instead, the Tatmadaw has settled for spectacular, if sporadic, acts of violence. It launched an offensive on the rebel territories five years ago this month, with air strikes hitting Laiza on Christmas Eve 2012.

Since the last peace agreement broke, in 2011, it has bombarded the city multiple times, killing dozens and terrorising the population. But even as the shells have rained down and refugees have massed on its outskirts, Laiza continues to evolve into an important political and cultural centre.

Uncertain future

Laiza is one of the few places in Myanmar where the Kachin can practise their culture freely: studying, worshipping and publishing in their own language. Visit Laiza after spending time in anywhere else in the country, and the first thing you notice (or maybe the second, after all the churches) is the street signs. They’re in Jingpho, which is banned elsewhere. Laiza has a Jingpho-language newspaper, television and radio stations, and even a book publisher.

Meanwhile, the Chinese authorities have mostly turned a blind eye as people travel across the border to work and trade. (Indeed, the local economy depends on their forbearance.) Until recently it was relatively easy to travel to Laiza from the government-controlled areas, too: during the school breaks, many young Kachin made the pilgrimage to Laiza to volunteer with local schools and NGOs, and train as recruits with the KIA.

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