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Myanmar military says airstrikes used against Kachin rebels

January 02, 2013|By Emily Alpert
  • Demonstrators in Yangon, Myanmar, protest fighting between government forces and rebels.
Demonstrators in Yangon, Myanmar, protest fighting between government… (Soe Than Win / AFP/Getty…)

The Myanmar military has admitted using airstrikes against rebels in the country's north, despite earlier government statements saying planes were being used only to supply troops.

The strikes signal an escalation in clashes between government forces and the ethnic Kachin rebels, who seek greater autonomy. Video recorded from the rebel trenches by an aid group and shared with the BBC shows attack helicopters firing toward the ground.

The military acknowledged the strikes Wednesday on state television, the Associated Press reported. The military also said it had captured a hilltop post where insurgents had been launching attacks on government supply convoys.  The Democratic Voice of Burma, an independent media organization run from outside the country, said the military had also reported the airstrikes on a military-owned news website Tuesday.

The admission just days after the government denied such attacks has fueled concerns that the elected government lacks control over the armed forces.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has emerged from decades of military rule and is gradually embracing democratic reform, though the military still holds power. Killings and torture committed during ethnic clashes with the Kachin and other groups undermine the fragile progress, human rights groups say.

“The Burma army is using the same brutal template of scorched-earth tactics and abuses against civilians that it has used in pursuit of pacification in ethnic areas for decades,” Human Rights Watch researcher David Scott Mathieson wrote in a recent commentary on the Public Service Europe website. Peace could take years because of “ongoing fighting and entrenched political positions on both sides of the conflict.”

A cease-fire between government forces and the Kachin Independence Army first broke down in the summer of 2011. The fighting has taken a heavy toll on the area: Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes amid the conflict, according to the United Nations refugee agency.

With the newly reported strikes, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was “vital that timely access be provided for the delivery of aid to vulnerable communities.”

Protesters marched in Yangon on Tuesday to call for an end to the conflict. 

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