The Burmese army has claimed responsibility for several targeted air strikes in northern Burma, less than a day after the government denied using jet fighters and attack helicopters against Kachin rebels.
In an article by the military-owned Myawady news website on Tuesday, the army admitted that “an assault mission, utilising airstrikes, was carried out” in the strategic Lajayang region, less than 13 kilometres from the rebels’ headquarters in Laiza.
It contradicts an earlier government claim that it was only using air forces to “deliver food supplies to its troops” and “to provide security for the workers who are repairing roads and bridges”.
The army insists the air strikes were necessary to reclaim a route used to deliver supplies to their outposts in Lajayang, after rebels ignored an ultimatum to pull back from the area. Rebels say they refused because they fear an attack on their headquarters.
According to local sources, the army has stepped up its military assault on Laiza from both the north and south sides of the base with a clear intent to squeeze the rebels. The Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has even accused the government of using Chinese airspace to target attacks.
A video shot by the Free Burma Rangers and released by the BBC today, shows attack helicopters firing on the ground and military jets flying over territory controlled by the KIA.
The director of the president’s office, Zaw Htay, told the BBC that he had little knowledge of the army’s use of helicopters or airstrikes — raising fresh doubt over the government’s ability to control the military. President Thein Sein has been heavily criticised for failing to rein in the army, despite publicly ordering troops to stop its offensive against the rebels. The government maintains that it is only acting in self-defence.
Over a hundred protestors marched through the streets of Rangoon on Tuesday to call for an end to the bloody conflict, which has displaced over 75,000 people since fighting broke out in June 2011.
“Right now as the New Year is being celebrated in many places, our brothers in the North are suffering in war, forced to flee for their lives. We are protesting for peace – we call for an immediate end to the war,” said Kyi Zin Thar, a spokesperson for the youth activist group Generation Wave, who co-organised the event.
In September, protestors calling for an end to the Kachin conflict were later charged for rallying without permission under the controversial law on assembly and peaceful procession, which came into force last year.
The ongoing conflict severely dents the reformist credentials of President Thein Sein, who carefully skirted the Kachin crisis in his first ever New Year’s message on Tuesday. Even democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has elicited rare criticism for her failure to condemn the army’s ongoing assault on the rebels.