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Fighting Intensifies in Northern Burma

Fighting has intensified in northern Burma as government troops continue a weeklong offensive against ethnic Kachin rebels.

Presidential spokesman Ye Htut on Wednesday confirmed that several government troops, including a senior commander, have been killed in the fighting with the Kachin Independence Army ((KIA)). He added that some local civilians have been displaced, but did not provide exact numbers.

He called on the rebels to show restraint during the current New Year holiday in Burma, also called Myanmar.

“We regret to learn about our soldiers’ sacrifices and displaced locals in front-line areas while taking care of security and public safety. As the president expressed, the loss of one Kachin soldier means losing one of us as well. That’s why I would like to urge KIA leaders to ask their ground forces for restraint in this situation to advance the implementation of the cease-fire agreement," said Htut.

But KIA spokesman La Jah blamed the military for the violence and told VOA the current fighting undermines trust building in the peace process.

“Everybody says we all need to reduce military actions, conflicts and build up trust before signing a nationwide cease-fire agreement; however, the Burmese military deploys more troops in that area for the time being. I was told that KIA Vice Chief of Staff General Gun Maw talked to Burmese Major General Soe Myint to protest against Burmese troop deployment in Kachin state," said Jah.

It is not known how many Kachin rebels have been killed or wounded in the fighting, which broke out April 10.

The government has been holding talks on a nationwide cease-fire deal with a multi-ethnic umbrella group, the National Cease-fire Coordination Team (NNCT), which includes the Kachin.

NNCT member Colonel Khun Okkar accused the government of fighting for more territory before signing any cease-fire agreement.

“It seems the Burmese military wants to control the territorial and ground situation as much as while they can before signing a nationwide cease-fire agreement [and before] implementation takes place," said Okkar.

The Burmese government has been fighting several ethnic rebel groups for decades. Clashes with the Kachin in northern Burma flared in 2011 and displaced more than 100,000 before the two sides reached a tentative cease-fire last year.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Burmese service.