Civilians Horrified by Kachin War

A group trying to mediate in Burma's escalating Kachin conflict speaks about the plight of the refugees.

Kachin Independence Army (KIA) soldiers pray at a frontline camp outside their headquarters in Laiza in Kachin state, Sept. 19, 2012.

Civilians have been terrorized by Burma's military airstrikes on ethnic rebel territory in northern Kachin state, a group trying to mediate between the warring sides said Friday, amid an escalation of fighting.

"Honestly, the fighting has intensified right now. There is a very low possibility of restarting peace talks at this moment," said Mya Aye, a leader of the pro-democracy 88 Generation Students Group, who spoke to RFA's Burmese Service from the rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA) headquarters of Laiza on the Burma-China border.

"We heard the sound of armaments and explosions three times last night. We haven’t heard anything this morning because we are in downtown Laiza, but fighting has not decreased," said Mya Aye, who had held talks with KIA leaders as part of an effort to mediate and bring an end to the fighting.

Tens of thousands of ethnic Kachins have been displaced by the fighting, which has been going on every day in recent weeks, after a 17-year cease-fire between the government and Kachin rebels seeking greater autonomy collapsed in June 2011.

Many of them are in camps in or near Laiza.

"When we visited the refugee camps, the refugees’ faces reflect suffering, anxiety, and concern. They are digging bunkers to protect themselves from bombs. It is sad to see it," Mya Aye said.

Kachins living in makeshift camps have described their plight from the army's use of air power.

"We are really afraid and can't sleep well at nights," Dashi Lu, 60, from Daw Hpun Yang village, about a day's walk from the Laiza camp where she has lived for a year, told the Associated Press.

"If I were small enough, I would hide under a leaf," she said.

"Now, there is intense fighting in the vicinity of the camps and everyone is fearful," said Salang Kaba Doi Pyi Sa, head of the Kachin refugee relief committee.

"If the army uses heavy artillery, it can reach the camps."

'Maximum restraint'

The Burmese government said in a statement that the military had been given orders to cease all offensives against the KIA rebels but that it had to protect its soldiers after the rebels set off land mines and ambushed government forces.

It said that the air strikes against the rebels were conducted in self-defense, pledging "maximum restraint" amid growing international concern.

A network of Kachin support groups on Thursday called on the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross to help protect the Kachin civilians.

It claimed the government was using Chinese airspace for its offensive and that the Kachin could not flee to safety and were virtually trapped because China has closed the border to them while the Burmese authorities have blocked relief aid.

China has also complained to Burma about three bombs landing on its territory during the air attacks on rebels.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Friday that Beijing considers the fighting to be a domestic matter for Burma.

"The issue concerning northern Myanmar [Burma] is Myanmar's internal affair and we hope that the Myanmar government can appropriately deal with the issue through peaceful negotiation," the spokeswoman said, according to Agence France-Presse.

Mya Aye said peace talks can be held only when fighting subsides.

"We want a promise from both sides that they will discuss politically to solve political conflicts while they start the peace discussion," he said, adding that the 88 Generation Students Group will also meet the government on the issue.

"Our mediation should be accepted by both sides. We are doing something to end the negative aspects of war and to strive for equal ethnic rights."

Reported by Nayrein Kyaw for RFA's Burmese service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.


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