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January 24, 2013

US 'Deeply Concerned' About Burma Fighting

by VOA News

The United States is "deeply concerned" by ongoing violence in Burma's Kachin state, where fighting continues between the army and rebel groups despite a cease-fire.

A statement from the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon Thursday said the Burmese army is continuing its offensive in the northeastern state. It cited media and NGO reports, and added that the offensive has resulted in civilian casualties and is undermining efforts to achieve national reconciliation.

A spokesperson for President Thein Sein later told VOA the U.S. Embassy statement was unbalanced, and did not mention what he said were attacks by Kachin rebels on both government and civilian targets.

"We understand the U.S. government concern for the situation in KI [Kachin] state, but to be fair, they have to point out all the action and incidents taken by both sides," spokesperson Ye Htut said. "This is not fair to put all the blame on the government side."

The government declared a unilateral cease-fire to take effect on Saturday. But sporadic fighting has continued. Eyewitnesses and rebel officials tell VOA that Burmese soldiers used the brief lull in hostilities to advance on rebel positions.

In a speech in Rangoon Sunday, Thein Sein said government forces are within an "arm's length" of the main Kachin Independence Army base in the town of Laiza, on the border with China. 

He said he has ordered troops not to attack the base as a show of good will, and he called for the KIA to return to the negotiating table as soon as possible.

The embassy statement Thursday urged both sides to "take all necessary steps to create an atmosphere for dialogue." It also called on Burma to allow "unhindered access" to those in need of assistance from the U.N. and international aid agencies.

Burmese troops and Kachin rebels have been fighting since 2011, when a 17-year cease-fire broke down.  It is the last active civil war in Burma. Other ethnic groups have signed peace deals with the government.

The fighting in Kachin state has displaced tens of thousands of people and overshadowed major political reforms introduced since Burma ended decades of military rule in 2011.