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Burma’s parliament on Friday demanded a halt to fighting between the military and rebels in the northern state of Kachin which has marred optimism about the country’s political reforms.
The conflict between government forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) has escalated recently with the use of air strikes by the military.
The proposal to halt the clashes and resume ceasefire talks, submitted by Kachin MP Doibu of the Unity and Democracy Party, was passed by a voice vote in the lower chamber, house speaker Shwe Mann announced.
“To implement the peace process, the proposal was approved to urge the responsible organisations and the government to start peace dialogue as soon as possible after immediately stopping the fighting between the KIO/KIA and government troops,” said Shwe Mann, a former general.
It was unclear whether the motion would have any effect on the ground, despite its approval by a legislature dominated by the military and its political allies.
The lower chamber has surprised observers at times with the openness of its debate under Shwe Mann, a key figure in the former junta who is widely seen as one of President Thein Sein’s main political rivals.
Thein Sein’s reformist government said a year ago it had ordered the military to halt offensives against ethnic minority rebels, but the Kachin conflict has shown no sign of abating.
“We have to watch whether they really stop fighting there on the ground. We have to send this message to the ground level,” Doibu told AFP after the vote, adding that the motion would now be submitted to the president.
“Only after the fighting stops can we continue political dialogue,” she added.
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in the state since June 2011, when a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the KIA broke down.
On a recent trip to Burma, the special adviser to UN chief Ban Ki-moon, Vijay Nambiar, appealed for greater humanitarian access in the region, the UN said.
Burma’s quasi-civilian government has reached tentative ceasefires with a number of major ethnic rebel groups since taking power in early 2011, but several rounds of talks with Kachin rebels have shown little tangible progress.
The number of casualties is unknown.
The KIA said on Monday that three civilians were killed in an artillery attack by the military on its stronghold town of Laiza near the border with China. The government denied the allegations.
The Kachin clashes, along with communal unrest in the western Arakan state, have overshadowed dramatic political changes in Burma since its widely praised emergence from decades of army rule.
The KIO accuses the government of pushing dialogue only on the basis of a ceasefire and troop withdrawals, neglecting to address longstanding demands for greater political rights.
The military and its supporters reject the criticism, saying the KIA has shunned its efforts to bring an end to the fighting.
“The KIA are committing many acts of terrorism,” said Colonel Htay Aung, one of the unelected military personnel who hold a quarter of the seats in parliament.
“We have invited the KIA to find peace many times and held discussions with them many times,” he added. “We soldiers have been suffering many difficulties at the front.”