01/21/2013, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Myanmar military ignores ceasefire, continues attack against Kachin

by Francis Khoo Thwe
Heavy fighting is underway around the rebel stronghold of Laiza. President Thein Sein seeks peace talks but his call for a stop to the fighting falls on deaf ears. Sources tell AsiaNews about intense attacks. Young people and Buddhist monks promote a peace march in Yangon.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - Myanmar forces continue their offensive against rebels in Kachin state on the border with China even though Myanmar President Thein Sein last Thursday called on the military to stop their attacks in La Ja Yang, near the Chinese border. On that occasion, the Myanmar leader said that Laiza had not been conquered, but some reports indicate that fighting is taking place. Local sources in fact told AsiaNews that Myanmar forces are pushing on with heavy shelling and many civilian casualties.

The Myanmar Armed Forces (Tatmadaw in Burmese) are trying to take strategic positions around Laiza, the stronghold and headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), as a prelude to a final assault.

Last week, Human Rights Watch accused them of indiscriminately shelling Laiza resulting in many casualties among the civilian population.

Although President Thein Sein has called for fresh peace talks, negotiations have so far not been successful. Kachin leaders rejected his offer, saying talks need evidence of goodwill, like a stop to the shelling.

Anonymous sources told AsiaNews that Myanmese forces have been involved in heavy fighting in Lagat Bum and Hka Ya, locations crucial for the defence of Laiza, which is under heavy shelling.

Fighting is also reported in Shwe Gu, near the Irrawaddy River, where some 2,000 civilians are surrounded by Myanmese troops.

In Yangon, young people have organised a peace march, joined by Buddhist monks. Marchers plan to walk to Laiza to bring the fighting to a stop.

The Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), the political wing of the KIA, is the only rebel group that has rejected a peace offer made by President Thei Sein and his "pro-reform" government.

Violence flared up again in June 2011 after a hiatus of 17 years when Kachin leaders refused to give up a strategic position near a hydroelectric plant built under a joint China-Myanmar agreement.

For experts, the Kachin issue is the key long-term problem for Myanmar's central government, especially if it wants to continue its democratisation.

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