Myanmar TownCity of Myanmar
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The limelight on Laiza: Myanmar's insurgent main city is digging in - and turning on towns.
Theoretically, the Myanmar military - known as the Tatmadaw - could invade the town at any time, and theoretically the Laizans would have no way out. The vast majority of the population is not permitted to enter China at all. The KIA has been fighting the Myanmar authorities for almost 60 years to gain power over the Kachin state with the aim of creating an independent home for the Kachin tribe, a small Chinese Buddhist Myanmar ethnic group.
It has been astonishingly efficient, partly because the region's troubled territory and complex geopolitical policies - the Chinese are big investment in Kachin State and are supporting both sides - are preventing the Myanmar military from wageing a total conflict. Five years ago, it started an attack on the rebels, with aerial attacks on Laiza on Christmas Eve 2012.
It has bombed the town repeatedly, killed tens of people and terrorised the people since the last peaceful settlement was broken in 2011. However, even when the mussels have poured down and the fugitives have gathered on the edge of the town, Laiza is still developing into an important center of politics and the arts. The Kachin are one of the few places in Myanmar where they can practice their own cultures freely: study, worship and publish in their own languages.
After you have spent a while in another land, you should go to Laiza, and the first thing you see (or perhaps the second, after all the churches) are the road sign. It has a jingpho-language paper, TV and radio broadcasters and even a publishing house. Meanwhile, the eyes of the China government are usually closed when traveling across the borders to work and act.
Until recently, it was also relatively simple to come to Laiza from government-controlled areas: during the summer holidays, many young Kachin went on pilgrimages to Laiza to work as volunteers at grassroots colleges and NGOs and educate as KIA enlisted people. Up until the mid-1990s, Laiza was just another Kachin settlement in the rough borderland of northeastern Burma.
KIA held a strategical regional army station and relocated to Laiza when it concluded a peacemaking treaty with the regime in 1994. It was Kachin from all over the area. Since then, Laiza has become a strong icon of Kachin's efforts in politics and culture - and a high-ranking destination for Burma's assaults.
Blast Jan Pan, a Malaysian based heavy rock group, records their video clips and shoots them in Laiza. Burma's army fired on Laiza in 2013. Since there is no sign of a peacemaking treaty in the offing and the Myanmar army is stepping up its assaults, the regime has little else but to rely on the moderate power of the state.
Kachin's help is being sought by China as it is still pushing for a large hydropower plant that would inundate large parts of the state of Kachin. The irony is that this is an area in which the Kachin tribe and the Myanmar authorities have a real interest in common: the Myanmar authorities abandoned the plan in 2011 out of fear that it could affect life resources and biological diversity later on.
Aung Sang Suu Kyi's civil rule in 2015 gave Kachin hopes that a further peaceful settlement could bring self-determination about. However, it was the Myanmar armed forces, not the Burma state, that ruled the war. Encouraged by a general opinion that seems to have no desire to make compromises with minorities, the armed forces insist on the complete disarming of the rebels - even if they continue to assault KIA locations and devour Laiza area.
As the Tatmadaw and the Chinese reflect on their next steps, Laiza continues to live. Instagram Everyday Kachin Feeds publish photographs from Laiza and the state of Kachin. The Irrawaddy is the best choice for frequent and detailed reporting on the Kachin war.