Burma’s government continues with air and artillery strikes

Burma’s Army launched new air and artillery strikes against the Kachin Independence Army on the 18th of January despite the government announcing a ceasefire to begin 6am on Saturday.

Humanitarian groups monitoring the situation from inside Kachin State said air strikes had stopped but heavy artillery continues to bombarded KIA positions.

The ceasefire announcement comes as the U.S. and UK voiced condemnation over the government’s prosecution of a war in Kachin State.

Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt, speaking on behalf of the UK government in parliament on the 14th of January, expressed deep concern over the escalation in Kachin State, “including the use of Burmese military helicopters and aircraft against Kachin Independence Army positions in areas around the state capital and Laiza.”

He also said that the Kachin conflict presented a threat to the reform process that has been undertaken by Thein Sein’s government. 
On January 14, Burmese government spokesman Ye Thut denied that government shells struck Laiza. The previous week, the Office of the President publicly denied that the army conducted any airstrikes against the KIA with helicopters and fighter jets, but then later backtracked when news reports showed video footage of the attacks. 

In December 2011, President Thein Sein sent a letter to the army chief of staff and military commands in northern Burma, requesting the army cease attacks in Kachin State unless acting in self-defense, yet there is little evidence the military is following that directive, say human rights groups.

Free Burma Rangers, a human rights group that provides assistance to people displaced by conflict inside Burma, reported that no further air attacks occurred on Saturday, 19th of January, but that artillery shelling and gun battles have continued.

FBR said in the last few days Burma’s Army had carried out the following:
•In the Mai Ja Yang area, the Burma Army has fired 105mm artillery and 120mm mortars on KIA positions for most of the day.
•The Burma Army fired mortars near Lajayang between 10am and 2pm.
•Approximately 150 troops moved into the Lajayang area.
•Helicopters resupplied troops in the Lajayang area.
After initiating a new offensive in the Lajayang area near Laiza in December, the Burma Army has used airstrikes as well as artillery, hitting KIA targets and civilian areas.

There are an estimated 15,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) sheltering in camps established by the Kachin Independence Organization and Kachin civil society groups in Laiza. The town has approximately 20,000 permanent residents.

Meanwhile Human Rights Watch urged the Burmese government and the KIA to take all necessary precautions to minimize loss of civilian life and property during military operations.

“Burmese President Thein Sein needs to order his army commanders to respect the laws of war and end unlawful attacks on civilians,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Both the Burmese army and the KIA should take all necessary precautions to keep the tens of thousands of civilians in and around Laiza from harm’s way.”

Human Rights Watch has accused the Burmese government of repeatedly denying humanitarian access to the United Nations and international aid groups seeking access to displaced people in KIA territory, creating a humanitarian emergency and leaving those displaced to rely on minimum amounts of assistance from the Kachin Independence Organization and local civil society and community groups.

“President Thein Sein should get the message that deliberately denying aid to tens of thousands of war-ravaged people in need is completely at odds with his government’s self-appointed image as champions of rights and reforms,” Robertson said.

There are approximately 90,000 IDPs in Kachin State, with approximately 60,000 residing in sizable camps in KIA-controlled territory along the border with China’s Yunnan province.

Fighting in Kachin State has continued since 9 June 2011, when a 17-year ceasefire was broken.

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