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UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday urged the Burmese army to stop air raids against ethnic rebels in Kachin state, and seek a fair and lasting solution to the conflict.
Ban’s spokesman, Martin Nesirky, said the UN chief “has taken serious note of the most recent reports indicating air strikes against targets in Kachin state.”
“While details of these reports are still emerging and being closely followed, the Secretary-General calls upon the Burma 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,” Nesirky added.
The US government also expressed concern over the use of air force in the latest escalation of violence between government troops and Kachin rebels.
“We are troubled by the use of air power,” US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters on Wednesday.
“We are continuing to urge the government of Burma and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) to cease this conflict, to get to a real dialogue to address grievances as the government of Burma has been able to do in virtually all of the other conflict areas,” she said.
The KIO is the only major rebel group in Burma that has failed to sign a ceasefire deal with President Thein Sein’s pseudo-civilian government, which came to power in March 2011. About 75,000 civilians have been displaced since June that same year, when a 17-year ceasefire between the government and rebels broke down.
In recent weeks, the army has stepped up its offensive against the rebels’ headquarters in Northeastern Burma.
On Tuesday, the army finally admitted to launching a series of targetted air strikes against the rebels less than 13 kilometres from their Laiza base near the Chinese border. It contradicts earlier claims that the government was only using air forces to “deliver food supplies to its troops”.
But 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.
“We heard the military used helicopters and training jets while trying to get their camp back,” Hla Maung Shwe, an adviser to President Thein Sein, told AFP.
The escalation has raised fresh doubts over the government’s reform drive and ability to control Burma’s powerful armed forces.
The United Nationalities Federation Council (UNFC) – which represents all ethnic minority groups in Burma – has described the crisis as an impediment to peace throughout the ethnic territories.
“The [government has] agreed to find answer to the political problems via political means looking to prosperity of the nation. Carrying out fierce attack [against the Kachins] despite the agreement indicates a hypocritical and dishonest intention,” they said in a statement on Wednesday.
The KIO, which is fighting for greater autonomy and ethnic rights in Burma, has repeatedly called for political dialogue as a precondition for peace.