A day after Burma’s military aircraft pounded rebel areas in northern Kachin state causing an unknown number of casualties, a prominent local activist called on the government Saturday to resume peace talks to end the ethnic conflict or risk losing the confidence of the people.
“Now it has escalated to usage of planes and choppers and locals are very much frightened and worried,” 88 Generation Students’ Group leader Min Ko Naing told RFA’s Burmese service.
“In the long run, people will lose confidence in the government’s work of building reconciliation. And once it happens, everything will have to start from the beginning. I don’t want to see that situation,” he said amid concerns over casualties following a military air assault on Friday near the de facto capital of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).
Four fighter jets and two helicopters took part in an air assault on rebel positions near Laiza, three days after the rebels defied a military ultimatum to stop blocking a vital route taken by government troops to Lajayang or face a fierce attack, according to a report.
“Throughout the morning, military planes struck KIO positions in Lajayang, a key town located less than 10 miles (16 kilometers) south of Laiza,” said the Thai-based Kachin News Group which covers mostly Kachin state developments.
The number of people killed or injured by the bombardment was not immediately known, it said.
The group said however that government shelling near Lajayang on Thursday killed one civilian and injured three others at Mankwi, citing area officials of the KIO, the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army which is fighting for an autonomous state.
The KIO capital Laiza is currently home to at an estimated 40,000 refugees “who are increasingly forced to get by on inadequate amounts of food,” the Kachin News Group said.
“The food crisis has been greatly exacerbated by a government imposed blockade preventing the U.N. and its related agencies from delivering food to refugee camps located in KIO controlled territory,” it said.
Min Ko Naing appealed for an end to the armed conflict.
“We have visited those crisis areas and had the chance to wipe their [refugees] tears with our own hands,” he said, adding that “those who want to carry on the fighting are those who are benefitting from war.”
“Whenever negotiations take place, both sides want to have the upper hand. Peace would never come if these old ideas and practices prevail,” he said.
Min Ko Naing said that in Kachin state’s Hpakant town, for example, tens of thousands of people had signed a petition to stop the fighting “and those in power should not ignore the people’s desires.”
“Both sides should discard these old ideas if they want peace,” he said.
The KIA claimed about a week ago that dozens of government troops were killed following fighting in Lajayang, which erupted after the KIA blocked government forces from delivering rations and other supplies to the nearby Lung Rawk post.
Fighting between government troops and the KIA has been going on every day in recent weeks.
A 17-year ceasefire between the government and Kachin rebels collapsed in June 2011.
Several rounds of talks between the Burmese government and the KIO since November have yielded little outcome, with both sides saying they are defending themselves from the other in the ongoing violence.
Burmese authorities have signed peace agreements with 10 other armed ethnic groups since a new reformist government led by Thein Sein came to power in March last year.
“Rather than letting peace negotiators bring the fighting to an end as they have elsewhere, the Tatmadaw [the Burmese military] appears determined to settle matters its own way, through brute force,” the Irrawaddy online journal said in an editorial this week.
“The Burmese military is wrong to believe that the tenuous peace in other parts of Burma has given it a free hand to handle the Kachin conflict as it pleases. All it is doing is fanning the flames of ethnic resentment, and making real peace harder to achieve in the long run.”
The Irrawaddy also called on Thein Sein, who has sought talks to end the armed ethnic conflict, to rein in the powerful military, saying his plea earlier this week for all out efforts to end government corruption was not enough.
“It’s all well and good to tell civilian administrators that they shouldn’t take bribes or pilfer public funds, but until the president can bring the Tatmadaw to heel, his words will ring hollow.”
Reported by RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.