Myanmar bridles at US ethnic strife concerns

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 January, 2013, 8:48pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 January, 2013, 8:55pm

Myanmar issued a rebuke to the United States embassy in Yangon on Saturday after the US raised concerns over continued fighting between the army and ethnic rebels in the northern state of Kachin.

The Myanmar foreign ministry accused the US statement, issued on Thursday, of only presenting one side of the bloody conflict, which has continued despite a government announcement of a unilateral ceasefire earlier this month.

Myanmar said the US release “could cause misunderstanding in the international community”, in a response printed in the state-run English language newspaper New Light of Myanmar.

It said the statement suggested “only the Myanmar Government and the Tatmadaw (army) launched the offensive” and “did not mention anything about terrorist actions and atrocities committed” by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in Kachin state since June 2011, when a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the KIA broke down. The conflict has resulted in civilian casualties, although the exact number killed is unclear.

The US on Thursday cited media and aid agency reports that the Myanmar military had continued its offensive close to the KIA headquarters on the border with China.

It said Washington “strongly opposes the ongoing fighting” and urged both sides to work towards “sustainable peace”.

Myanmar’s quasi-civilian government has reached tentative ceasefires with a number of ethnic rebel groups since taking power in early 2011 at the end of decades of military rule. But several rounds of talks with the Kachin have failed to bear fruit.

The rebels say any negotiations should also address their demands for greater political rights.

Beijing also this week urged a ceasefire after vice foreign minister Fu Ying visited Myanmar for talks with President Thein Sein, according to China foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei. He said the pair had agreed to maintain peace and stability on their shared border.

Chinese state-run media has reported that officials in China’s Yunnan province are planning camps for 10,000 people in case large numbers flee across the frontier to escape the Kachin fighting.