Myanmar faced growing international pressure yesterday to halt air attacks on ethnic minority rebels in the northern state of Kachin, where an escalating conflict has overshadowed wider political reforms.
Fighting between the military and the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organization in the far north of the country has worsened in recent days as the army battled to regain one of its bases.
“We’re obviously deeply troubled by the increased violence,” US Department of State spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in Washington late on Wednesday, adding that Myanmar had admitted using aerial weapons in Kachin.
“We are continuing to urge the government of Burma and the Kachin Independence Organization to cease this conflict, to get to a real dialogue to address grievances as the government of Burma has been able to do in virtually all of the other conflict areas,” Nuland said.
The military’s Myawaddy news Web site has reported that a key base was seized from the rebels on Saturday “with the help of air strikes in the region.”
Government peace negotiator Hla Maung Shwe, who is also an adviser to Burmese President Thein Sein, said military helicopters and “training jets” were believed to have been used in the operation.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon added his voice to the calls for the Myanmar army to stop the air raids against Kachin rebels.
The UN chief “has taken serious note of the most recent reports indicating air strikes against targets in Kachin state,” said his spokesman, Martin Nesirky.
“While details of these reports are still emerging and being closely followed, the secretary-general calls upon the Myanmar authorities to desist from any action that could endanger the lives of civilians living in the area or further intensify the conflict in the region,” Nesirky added.
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in the state of Kachin since June 2011, when a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the Kachin Independence Army broke down.
The UN recently appealed to Myanmar to stop blocking aid to the displaced people in rebel-held territory in the state.
Meanwhile, Thailand has deported dozens of Rohingya boat people back to Myanmar, an official said yesterday, despite a UN appeal to accept members of the Muslim minority fleeing sectarian bloodshed.
The 73 Rohingya, including 15 women, were sent back across the border on Wednesday after landing on the southern island of Phuket, said Ditthaporn Sasasmit, a spokesman for the kingdom’s Internal Security Operation Command.
“The waves were high and it might have been dangerous to go further, so Thailand allowed them to come into the country and detained them as illegal immigrants,” he said.
“Phuket immigration police sent them back overland via Ranong, where there is a border checkpoint,” he said.