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Kachin rebels come under Myanmar airstrikes

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Army battling to regain base in the north

Intense civil war:Recruits of the Kachin Independence Army pray before breakfast at a military camp near Laiza in northern Myanmar in this February 2012 file photo. — Photo: AP
Intense civil war:Recruits of the Kachin Independence Army pray before breakfast at a military camp near Laiza in northern Myanmar in this February 2012 file photo. — Photo: AP

Myanmar’s army has used air strikes against northern ethnic rebels, said sources from both sides on Wednesday.

Fighting between the military, known as the ‘Tatmadaw’, and the armed wing of the KIO (Kachin Independence Organisation) has worsened in recent days as the army battled to regain one of its bases, a government negotiator involved in peace efforts told AFP.

“We heard the military used helicopters and training jets while trying to get their camp back,” said Hla Maung Shwe, who is also an adviser to President Thein Sein.

He declined to specify how the aircraft were used, but a report on the military’s Burmese language Myawaddy news website said a key base had been seized from the rebels on December 30 “with the help of air strikes in the region”.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced since June 2011, when a 17-year ceasefire between the government and Kachin rebels broke down.

The rebels are calling for greater political rights and an end to alleged human rights abuses by the army.

Clashes in Kachin, along with communal unrest in western Rakhine state, have cast a shadow over Myanmar’s widely praised emergence from decades of army rule.

KIO deputy chief of foreign affairs Colonel James Lum Dau said that the fighting in Kachin had become “more serious” since last week, adding that it was concentrated in an area about 11 km from the rebel headquarters in Laiza on the Chinese border.

“Before they [attacked] with helicopters, now they are using jets with rockets and bombs,” he said.

AFP was not able to independently verify whether the jets had been used to fire on the rebels.

Civil war has gripped parts of Myanmar since independence from Britain in 1948.

Myanmar’s new quasi-civilian government has reached tentative ceasefires with most of the other major ethnic rebel groups, but several rounds of talks aimed at resolving the conflict in the far north have shown little progress.

Government spokesman Zaw Htay, who declined to give details of the latest fighting, said the Kachin rebels had not responded to an invitation for further dialogue.

The U.N. recently appealed to Myanmar to stop blocking aid to tens of thousands of displaced people in rebel-held territory in Kachin. — AFP

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