The Burmese military will stop an offensive against ethnic rebels in northern Kachin state, the government announced Friday, following a call by parliament for a ceasefire and international criticism of deadly air strikes that have terrorized civilians.
The Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which is fighting for greater autonomy, said it would study the unilateral ceasefire decision.
Burma's commander-in-chief Vice Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing has reaffirmed that the military "will follow the command of the president not to carry out offensive attacks except in self-defense," the information ministry said in a statement.
The unilateral ceasefire will be effective 6:00 a.m. local time Saturday, it said, cautioning however that both parties need to stop attacks to ease tensions.
Government troops will stop attacks in the Lajayang area, where the battle between the two sides has been most intense, the statement said.
The Lajayang battle flared after rebels rejected a government demand to stop attacking military convoys delivering supplies to the army base there.
The chief of the KIA's negotiation team, Sumlut Gam, said the announcement was "good to hear" but the KIA would hold off discussion on any ceasefire until Saturday, Reuters news agency reported.
Several rounds of talks held since the fighting 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.
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 collapsed in June 2011.
Many of them are in camps in or near Laiza, which rebel forces said came under heavy attack, including air strikes, by the military.
The U.S. said it was "extremely troubled" by the government's use of air power while the U.N. took "serious note" of the escalation of fighting and called on the military to refrain from any action that could endanger civilian lives.
Some groups had also questioned the sincerity of President Thein Sein's government’s commitment to national reconciliation and reforms nearly two years after taking power after decades of military rule.
The exact number of casualties in the recent fighting is not known, but the government said Friday that 35 soldiers had been killed and 190 injured in a series of ambushes by the rebels since 2011, in the first official death toll for the military's side, Agence France-Presse reported.
Earlier Friday, Burma's lower house of parliament adopted a plan to halt the clashes and resume ceasefire talks.
"To implement the peace process, the proposal was approved to urge the responsible organizations and the government to start peace dialogue as soon as possible after immediately stopping the fighting between the KIO/KIA and government troops," house speaker Shwe Mann, a former general, was quoted as saying by AFP.
The KIA's political wing is the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).
Reported by RFA's Burmese service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.