Myanmar’s military has acknowledged carrying out airstrikes against ethnic Kachin rebels in the country’s north, and said it has captured a hilltop post from where the insurgents launched attacks on government supply convoys.
The statement broadcast on state television on Wednesday contradicted government claims two days earlier that the military was not carrying out offensive air attacks on the Kachin, raising questions about how much control the elected government of reformist President Thein Sein has over the army.
The AFP news agency earlier reported that strikes were carried out as the military, known as the “Tatmadaw”, battled to regain one of its bases taken over by the armed wing of the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO).
A military owned news website stated that a key base had been seized from the rebels “with the help of air strikes in the region”.
According to James Lum Dau, deputy chief of foreign affairs of KIO, the fighting in Kachin had become “more serious” since last week.
“Before they (attacked) with helicopters, now they are using jets with rocks and bombs,” he added.
AFP, however, could not independently verify whether jets had been used to fire on the rebels.
‘Intensify the conflict’
The US said on Wednesday the use of air power in Kachin State was “extremely troubling.”
In Washington, state department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland urged the government and the Kachin rebel group to cease their conflict and begin a real dialogue for peace.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Myanmar’s authorities “to desist from any action that could endanger the lives of civilians living in the area or further intensify the conflict in the region,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said. Ban called on the government and rebels to work toward political reconciliation.
Myanmar’s new government has reached tentative ceasefires with most of the other ethnic rebel groups in the country, but have failed to make progress in rounds of talks aimed at resolving the conflict in the country’s north.
Zaw Htay, a government spokesperson has said that the government has not received a response from the Kachin rebels after they invited the rebels for talks.
The rebels are calling for greater political rights and an end to alleged human rights abuses by the army.
The conflict between the two groups has displaced tens of thousands of people since June 2011, when a 17-year ceasefire between the government and KIO rebels broke down.