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January 15, 2013

Burma Attacks in Kachin Prompt Global Criticism

by Henry Ridgwell

Reports say at least three people were killed and several injured after Burmese government forces launched mortar attacks Monday - the first reported civilian deaths since fighting between the military and Kachin rebels intensified last month. Kachin activists say Britain must do more to help their people, given Britain's colonial history in the country.
 
Amateur footage captures the aftermath of the alleged government attacks Monday on the town of Laiza, next to the Chinese border, as trucks carry away several injured people.  Kachin activists say three civilians were killed after mortars were fired at the town. 
 
Another video purportedly shows Kachin rebels earlier this month firing into the air as government jet fighters target their positions.
 
The Kachin Independence Army has been fighting for independence for decades. They have long accused Burma’s government of human rights violations.
 
​​Zoya Phan from Burma Campaign UK is an ethnic Karen - a group that says it has also suffered rights abuses and attacks. “It is shocking to see this still going on in Burma, while the international community turns a blind eye and does not condemn the human rights violations," she said. 
 
Activists staged a demonstration outside the Burmese embassy in London last week to protest the latest attacks.  Among them was Kunong, from the Kachin Students’ Union in Britain. 
 
“What the Burmese President is trying to do is cheating the world, is lying to the world. He is just playing with the international community to get their support," he said. 
 
Burmese President Thein Sein has overseen a series of reforms, including the release from house arrest of pero-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
 
Both U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron have visited Burma in the last twelve months.  And President Sein has been invited to visit London later this year. 
 
British Foreign Minister Alastair Burt said this week, though, that the situation in Kachin is increasingly serious and could present a threat to wider reforms.
 
Zoya Phan from Burma Campaign UK says Britain has a wider obligation to help the Kachin because of promises it failed to keep after World War II.
 
“The Kachin army were sided with the British army and were promised independence by the authorities there. But when independence came to Burma, it was only for major ethnic (group), which was the Burmen, but other ethnic minorities including the Kachin were denied their equal rights," she said. 
 
Burma has just marked the 65th anniversary of its independence from Britain with a military parade.
 
Vice-President Sai Mauk Kham made no reference to the current violence.
 
He told the assembled audience that "(h)istory has taught us that the entire nation of 60 million Burmese people wish to have peace, rule of law and development."
 
Kachin activists say that while the international community embraces the reforms, there is little sign of peace in their remote part of Burma.