Burma’s president has called for peace talks with all ethnic rebel groups in the country, even as government troops again attacked rebel positions in Kachin State in the north-east despite his order to cease fire.
President Thein Sein had issued the ceasefire order on Friday to troops in the La Ja Yang area of Kachin State near the border with China, where fighting has been fiercest.
It was due to take effect on Saturday morning, but Colonel James Lum Dau, Thai-based spokesman for the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), said the army had continued to attack over the weekend, both in La Ja Yang and elsewhere in the state.
Mr Thein Sein denied that the army, known as the Tamadaw, aimed to capture Laiza, where the KIA and its political arm, the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), have their headquarters.
“Now the Tamadaw members are an arm’s length from the KIA/KIO headquarters in Laiza, but I have ordered them not to occupy Laiza,” he said at a meeting with non-governmental groups in Rangoon, the commercial capital.
“In order to gain sustainable peace all over the country, there is no other way but to hold talks at the negotiating table as soon as possible,” he added.
A 17-year ceasefire with the KIA broke down in June 2011 and fighting has been particularly intense in recent weeks.
Twenty months of fighting has displaced tens of thousands of people and, for some analysts, raised doubts about the sincerity of all the political and economic reforms pursued by Mr Thein Sein in Burma.
On Saturday, addressing a development forum attended by donor countries and international aid organisations, the president had invited the Kachin rebels to a “political dialogue” with the government and ethnic rebel groups from other states. No date was given.
Ten other major rebel groups have already agreed ceasefires. The Kachin, like Burma’s other ethnic minorities, have long sought greater autonomy from the central government. They are the only major ethnic rebel group that has not reached a truce with the administration.
The KIA’s Col Lum Dau said an offensive in La Ja Yang from about 8am local time yesterday morning had involved artillery and infantry.
A local source in Kachin, who did not want to be identified, confirmed the army attacks, including one on a rebel position about five miles from Laiza. Fighter jets had flown over the area but had not attacked, the source said.
Loud explosions were also heard by residents of the town of Mai Ja Yang who felt the vibrations, the source said.
Col Lum Dau said the KIA had sent the president a reply saying it would not attend talks until there was more evidence of goodwill on the government side, involving a ceasefire in the whole state, or at least a big reduction in fighting.
“We already agreed to a ceasefire in 1994 and look at where we are now … We didn’t break any agreement,” he said, expressing KIA mistrust of central government that has persisted even after Mr Thein Sein took office in 2011 at the head of a quasi-civilian government after half a century of military rule.
The KIO said in a statement that “the government should reduce offensive operations all over Kachin State.”