Saturday, January 19, 2013

Kachin rebels remain skeptical of govt ceasefire


Saturday, 19 January 2013 15:20 AFP

Kachin rebels cast doubt Saturday over a Burmese 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 United States and the United Nations to speak out.

A KIA official, requesting anonymity, said the Burmese 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.

But he cautioned that the rebels would "wait and see" if military operations ceased.

The halt to the offensive was due to take effect from 6:00 am Saturday (2330 GMT Friday) 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 on Saturday near Laiza, the rebel's 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 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 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 on Saturday re-stated his government's desire for peace with the rebels.

"I have ordered the Tatmadaw [Burmese army] ... to seek a peaceful solution to the conflict. I believe the Kachin Independence Organisation 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 welcomed the declared end of the recent offensive.

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

Presidential spokesman Ye Htut said an incident had taken place in Hpakant on Saturday 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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