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Burma’s Kachin Conflict Escalates

  • VOA News

In Burma’s north, an 18-month-long battle between Kachin rebels and Burmese troops has escalated in recent weeks, with the military’s use of airpower. While the fighting continues, Burma's ethnic leaders are gathering to discuss whether the peace process can continue.

Burmese air strikes on Kachin military positions mark a significant escalation in the battle with the Kachin Independence Army, which is fighting for greater autonomy. Few reporters are on the ground. This footage was released by a humanitarian organization called Free Burma Rangers.

Some worry the attacks could derail peace talks for the country’s last ongoing armed rebellion. A group of ethnic leaders, United Nationalities Federation Council, met in northern Thailand to discuss prospects for a unilateral ceasefire. David Tharkabaw is the vice president of the UNFC. “Very heavy artillery, very heavy bombardment, so we may even consider the possibility -- the probability of suspending the talks," he said.

In Bangkok Friday, some 50 protesters gathered in at the Burmese embassy calling for an end to the war in Kachin state. No Burmese embassy officials met the protesters, who called for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to take up their cause.

“I want Aung San Suu Kyi to work harder and speak for Kachin ethnics and all ethnic groups in Burma and stand for us we trust in you," said one protester.

Newly democratic Burma has seen a surge in tourism in the past year. The Kachin conflict threaten to damage its reputation among visitors, such as tourist Jeneane Paxson, who happened to visit the embassy for a tourist visa during the protest. "Obviously there are some underlying issues going on that could very well affect my trip," she said.

President Thein Sein has been lauded as a reformer by international rights groups, and is slated to receive the International Crisis Group's highest honor, the Pursuit of Peace Award in April 2013.

ICG's Southeast Asia project director Jim Della-Giacoma says via Skype that despite the fighting, there could still be a peace deal. “These airstrikes are not happening in isolation they've happened at a particular point in time when peace talks haven't been going well and there is on both sides distrust, an attempt to fight it out on the battlefield but at the same time continue to talk. There is interest from both the Kachin and the military to have a deal to end this conflict," he said.

More protests at embassies around the world are scheduled to take place over the next few days.