The Burmese government on Wednesday called for fresh peace talks with ethnic rebels in northern Burma’s Kachin state amid conflicting reports of government air strikes on rebel-held territory.
Fighting between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) escalated in late December near the rebel headquarters of Laiza on the Chinese border.
Director of President Thein Sein’s office Zaw Htay said Wednesday that the Burmese government wants peace talks to resume even though the KIA says government troops have launched an offensive.
“The President hopes dialogue will continue,” he told RFA’s Burmese Service.
“We want to let everybody know that we are not attacking Laiza, as the KIA fears. We want peace talks,” he said.
He said leaders from the KIA and its political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), had not responded to an invitation to peace talks made last month by the government’s top negotiator Aung Min.
"Kachin civilians have died from fighting by both sides. In this situation, the peace negotiations offered by Minister Aung Min should be started as soon as possible,” he said.
Several rounds of peace talks held since a 17-year ceasefire agreement collapsed in June 2011 have yielded little outcome, with both sides saying they are defending themselves from the other.
The latest round of preliminary talks in October, held in Ruili in neighboring China’s Yunnan province, ended with an agreement for a further meeting there, but no date has been set.
Zaw Htay said that resumed talks would allow the two sides to prevent further fighting by clarifying which territory belonged to which in the area near Laiza where the recent clashes broke out.
“The government army’s camps and KIA’s camps are mixed up in the area. To clear up the lines on both sides, we can take steps [to fix] this situation through dialogue.”
Earlier this week, the Thailand-based Kachin News Group reported that four fighter jets and two helicopters took part in an air assault on KIA positions in Lajayang, about 10 miles (16 km) from Laiza.
It did not report any casualties, but said that government shelling at Mankwi near Lajayang on Dec. 27 killed one civilian and injured three others.
Burmese government authorities have denied launching a new offensive in the area, but have said planes were used to resupply its base in Lajayang after the KIA blocked supply routes.
Zaw Htay said the fighting broke out because the KIA had cut off supply lines. “This fighting happened because the government troops were supplying [their base],” he said.
A report on the military's Burmese language Myawaddy news website said a key base had been seized from the rebels on December 30 “with the help of air strikes in the region,” according to the Agence France-Presse news agency.
But Kachin sources say the use of planes amounted to an attack, not just a defense of its positions.
KIA Colonel Yaw Toon told RFA’s Burmese Service that government troops had dropped bombs on KIA positions and that dozens from the Kachin side had been injured in the fighting.
“Several bombs were dropped from a bomber plane on December 30,” he said.
“They avoid the word “attack”, but they have occupied two KIA camps even though they say that is not attacking,” he said.
“We have about 60 people who were injured and five people who died in December,” he said, adding that government forces had also used fighter planes, helicopters, rockets, and machine guns.
“They use the fighter planes called D-4 and the helicopters called MI-24. They also used rockets and machine guns.”
He said that the fighting is ongoing days after the airstrikes.
“They are attacking our outposts forcefully and they are firing on us four or five times each day.”
Tens of thousands of Kachin have been displaced by the fighting in the year and a half of fighting, prompting concern from the U.N.'s refugee agency.
Though Kachin peace talks have failed, Burmese authorities have signed peace agreements with 10 other armed ethnic groups since Thein Sein came to power in March 2011.
Thein Sein has ordered a halt to military offensives against ethnic rebels and promised to work toward national reconciliation following decades of military rule in Burma, which has been embroiled in wars with ethnic groups in its borderlands since the country was founded in 1948.
Reported by Win Naing and Nayrein Kyaw for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.