Kachin Fighting Escalates

Despite calls for peace talks, fighting looms between Burmese government troops and ethnic rebels.
2012-05-03
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Kachin children at a refugee camp in Myitsone, northern Burma, Feb. 26, 2012.
AFP

Burma’s military is set to strike at a key Kachin ethnic minority rebel stronghold in the country’s northern border region, an official from the guerilla army said Thursday, as fighting in the region escalates despite initiatives for peace talks.

The Burmese central government is preparing for a “major assault” on the town of Laiza, an official from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) told Agence-France Presse, in an indication that the war will enter a new phase since a 17-year ceasefire was shattered last year.

“They are preparing to attack the KIA base in Laiza…. They have reinforced a lot of the troops and sent a lot of artillery but have not attacked yet,” the official said, on condition of anonymity.

The KIA have also stepped up attacks, including one on a sub-township office in Waingmaw that left four officials dead last week, according to Burma’s state media, which seldom discusses the fighting.

"So, measures should be taken to avoid another incident... Such a terrorist attack is totally unacceptable in the time of peace efforts," the New Light of Myanmar said Sunday.

State media have also reported several blasts by the KIA on the Myikyina-Mandalay railroad in the past two weeks, and the KIA has said a government helicopter started shelling several of its bases last week.

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Talks

The flare in fighting comes after six rounds of talks between the Burmese government and Kachin political leaders, part of Burmese President Thein Sein’s efforts to forge pacts with various armed ethnic groups in the country.

But so far the talks have produced few tangible results. At initial talks in January, the two sides agreed to “reduce and control” military activities and to hold further talks, but since the last round in March, no date or location has been agreed upon for the next meeting.

On Monday, the Burmese government’s main peace negotiator, Railways Minister Aung Min, said that the ongoing fighting in Kachin state was the country’s main obstacle to “everlasting peace.”

The Burmese government – which has waged war in border regions since the country’s independence in 1948 – has signed preliminary peace agreements with 12 groups since Thein Sein called for ending ethnic conflict across the country in August last year.

In January, he told the military to halt all offensives in minority conflict zones except in self-defense.

But in the fighting in Kachin state that has raged on since a ceasefire pact was shattered last year, about 60,000 people have been displaced from their homes, according to U.N. estimates. Thousands more have fled across the border into China.

Western governments have said that an end to the conflict is an important requirement for closer ties and the removal of sanctions.

In the first address to Burma’s parliament by a foreign dignitary, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon called Monday for an end to the conflict, saying it is “inconsistent with the successful conclusion of the ceasefire agreements with all other major groups.”

"The Kachin people should no longer be denied the opportunity that a ceasefire and a political agreement can bring for peace and development," he said.

Reported by Rachel Vandenbrink.