The Burmese government reiterated its call on Wednesday for Kachin rebels to come to the negotiating table, as opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi called for an end to the fighting.
Ye Htut, a spokesman for Burmese President Thein Sein’s office, said the government was committed to a political solution in northern Burma’s Kachin state, where fighting has escalated since late December.
“The government is open to the next round of talks, but we don’t know how the KIO will respond,” he told RFA’s Burmese Service Wednesday.
He was referring to the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO)—the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) fighting years for greater autonomy.
“As the President said in his New Year speech, the government has decided to make a ceasefire agreement for peace with the KIO, and then will hold political discussions.”
Several rounds of talks held since the fighting was reignited a year and a half ago have yielded little outcome, and since late December, fighting has escalated near the rebel headquarters of Laiza, along the border with China.
Top leaders from both sides were absent at the latest round of discussions held at Ruili in China in October.
Ye Htet said that government negotiators had intended to go to the talks in response to Kachin requests to clarify which territory belonged to which side in the area near Laiza.
The government changed its mind about attending once it heard while en route to Ruili that top Kachin leaders were dropping out, he said.
“They were not able to go to Ruili once they got to Muse because they heard KIO Commander General Gwan Maw, who has the authority to make decisions, was not coming,” he said.
Since the failed talks, fighting had broken out after the KIA had blocked supply routes and attacked Burmese forces supplying other forces in the area.
“If the KIA hadn’t blocked our troops, who were supplying the government army, there would have been no reason for there to be fighting there.”
But the rebels say the Burmese military’s attacks go beyond a defense of their positions and amount to an all-out offensive on their headquarters.
Three civilians were killed and several others wounded on Monday in an air strike on Laiza, along the Chinese border, the KIA had said this week.
The attack, which rebels said was the first assault on the headquarters following earlier shelling that hit hills around the town, has prompted calls for the Burmese military to follow international law and not harm civilians.
Ye Htut rejected Kachin claims that government troops had attacked Laiza.
He said that after hearing news reports of the attacks, he conferred with Defense Department officials who confirmed that no shellings had taken place on that day.
“I contacted relevant persons in the Defense Ministry and asked them about artillery shellings in Laiza on January 14 because I read some posts regarding this news on the Internet,” he said.
“They said that the military had flown neither helicopters nor planes in the vicinity of Laiza on Monday and had not fired any artillery shells at the town.”
He said Burmese military had no plans to attack Laiza.
“The government army has no plan to and will not attack Laiza,” he said.
Call to end the war
President Thein Sein, since coming to office in March 2011, has 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 its founding in 1948.
He ordered a halt to military offensives against ethnic rebels last year and his government has signed cease-fire agreements with 10 ethnic groups, but fighting has continued in Shan, Kayin, and Kachin states.
In the capital Naypyidaw, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who had mostly refrained from speaking out about the escalating conflict in Kachin, called on Wednesday for the fighting to “stop immediately.”
“I don’t like any kind of war or violence,” she told the Irrawaddy online Journal.
“I have always said that we should negotiate amongst ourselves so that there is no need to fight like this.”
But the Nobel laureate, who championed ethnic minority rights when she was elected a lawmaker last year, said she herself had limited power to address the issue in her current role.
“I am not a member of Parliament’s Ethnic Committee. That doesn’t mean that I don’t take responsibility for the matter or that I don’t care about it, but different committees should respect each other and not interfere in each other’s work,” she said, according to the Irrawaddy.
Last week, she had said she would not step in to help the worsening conflict without government approval.
Reported by Win Naing for RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.