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World pressure mounts over Kachin fighting

US and UN urge end to air strikes on rebels

World pressure mounts over Kachin fighting
All Burma Student Democratic Front soldiers allied with Kachin rebels fire rockets outside the capital Laiza (AFP photo)
AFP, Daniel Wynn, Yangon and John Zaw, Mandalay

January 3, 2013

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Myanmar faces growing international pressure today to halt air attacks on ethnic minority rebels in Kachin state.

Fighting between the military and the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) 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," said US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland in Washington yesterday, noting that Myanmar 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 added.

The military's Burmese-language Myawaddy news website has reported that a key base was seized from the rebels on December 30 "with the help of air strikes in the region".

Government peace negotiator Hla Maung Shwe, who is also an adviser to 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,” according to 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.

The fighting in Kachin had become "more serious" since last week, according to KIO deputy chief of foreign affairs Colonel James Lum Dau, who said it was concentrated in an area about 11 km from the rebel headquarters at Laiza on the Chinese border.

"Before they [attacked] with helicopters, now they are using jets with rockets and bombs," he said.

Catholic priest Father Stephen Zaw Min Latt, who arrived in Laiza last week, said the military mounted several air strikes yesterday.

“We are deeply concerned for the security of Kachin refugees who are in camps close to the combat zone,” Fr. Zaw Min Latt told yesterday.

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. AFP

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