Sun, Jan 20, 2013 - Page 4 News List

Kachin rebels skeptical over Myanmar ceasefire

SAD LAIZA:The government called for an armistice after surrounding the main Kachin rebel base, but KIA members said the government was still shelling them

AFP, NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar

Kachin rebels yesterday cast doubt over a Myanmar government pledge to end a military offensive after weeks of intense fighting that sparked international concern, amid reports of fresh shelling.

The government move on Friday came after the country’s fledgling parliament called for a halt to the fighting, which has left dozens reported dead in northern Kachin state and marred optimism about the country’s political reforms.

The conflict between government troops and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has escalated in recent weeks with the use of air strikes by the military, prompting the US and the UN to speak out.

A KIA official, requesting anonymity, said the military had gained “the upper hand” by surrounding the rebel stronghold of Laiza and was therefore able to declare an end to the offensive from a position of strength.

However, he cautioned that the rebels would “wait and see” if military operations ceased.

The halt to the offensive was due to take effect from 6am yesterday, but the political wing of the KIA said attacks had continued near Laiza, which borders China.

“The Burmese ... never keep promises,” Thailand-based spokesman James Lum Dau said, adding “several minutes of shelling” had taken place yesterday near Laiza, the rebels’ base since the resumption of fighting in 2011.

A witness told AFP that an uneasy peace prevailed in the city itself.

Some experts have questioned the level of control Burmese President Thein Sein, a former general, exerts over army units in Kachin after an order to end military offensives in December 2011 was apparently ignored.

The exact number of casualties from the conflict is unknown, but the government said on 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 side.

The quasi-civilian government in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has reached tentative ceasefires with a number of ethnic rebel groups since taking power in early 2011, but talks with Kachin rebels have shown little progress.

The reform-minded president yesterday restated his government’s desire for peace with the rebels.

“I have ordered the Tatmadaw [Myanmar’s army]... to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict. I believe the Kachin Independence Organization will soon join us in the peace process,” he said in a statement, referring to the rebels’ political arm.

Doibu, a lower-house MP of the Kachin State Unity and Democracy Party — who goes by one name — welcomed the declared end of the recent offensive.

However, she said renewed clashes had been reported elsewhere in the resource-rich state.

Presidential spokesman Ye Htut said an incident had taken place in Pha Kant yesterday morning, giving details on his Facebook page saying “two policemen died and buildings were burnt down” in a KIA attack on a police station.

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