Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Burmese attacks pose significant risk of Kachin civilian casualties, says UK Minister

Tuesday, 15 January 2013 11:33 Mizzima News

A UK Foreign Office Minister on Monday addressed a question in Parliament about the conflict in Kachin State, saying the British government was “deeply concerned” by reports of an escalation in hostilities, including the use of Burmese military helicopters and aircraft against Kachin Independence Army positions near state capital Laiza.

Thousands of Kachins gather in Laiza on January 10 to protest Burmese government attacks. (PHOTO: Maran Naw)

“These tactics represent a marked escalation, and pose a significant risk of civilian casualties,” said Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Alistair Burt.

While noting that the British government has been encouraged by the reforms made by President Thein Sein’s government over the last 18 months, Burt emphasized that progress on ethnic reconciliation must remain the highest priority. “The situation in Kachin is increasingly serious and could present a threat to these wider reforms,” he said.

“The British Government calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities,” he told British Parliamentarians. “There must be unhindered humanitarian access to conflict-affected areas, and we call for all sides to return to the negotiating table and make renewed efforts towards a lasting peace.”

Burt’s comments come a month after a visit to Burma by another Foreign Office Minister, Hugo Swire, who reported that: “Progress on human rights issues is crucial to Britain's relationship with Burma.”

Meanwhile, a report by Burma campaign UK released on January 14 referred to the Burmese government forces’ attacks targeting Laiza as a war crime.

“Although Laiza is the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organisation, the majority of the population are civilian,” a statement said. “It is not possible to fire mortar bombs into Laiza without risking killing or injuring civilians.

The deliberate targeting of civilians in this way is in breach of the Geneva Conventions and is classified as a war crime.”

Burma Campaign UK called on the governments of Britain and the USA to adopt a much more robust approach with Naypyitaw “in order to persuade President Thein Sein to halt Burmese Army attacks against the ethnic Kachin minority in Burma.”
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