— Human Rights Watch issued a statement
Friday demanding that Burma’s army cease attacks against rebels in northern Kachin state. The group is also calling on military forces to allow humanitarian aid to reach at-risk populations.
As fighting between Kachin rebels and Burmese forces has crept closer to the rebel headquarters in Laiza, international rights groups say the military’s artillery and airstrikes are indiscriminate and violate international humanitarian law.
Three civilians have been reported killed in recent air and artillery strikes, which government officials initially denied. Presidential spokesperson Ye Htut later confirmed the military operations after video footage of the attacks emerged.
Human Rights Watch has condemned the military operation and called on the president to take action. Phil Robertson is the deputy director of the Asia Division.
"They need to take appropriate caution to make sure that they respect the laws of war and end unlawful attacks against civilians," he said. "Particularly, we're calling on President Thein Sein to say that he should order his commanders to ensure that the laws of war are followed and to ensure that the kinds of attacks that killed the three civilians are not repeated."
Robertson says he is particularly concerned that as the fighting has escalated and drawn nearer to large populations of displaced people, more civilians could be caught in the fighting. He pointed to a statement made by the deputy information minister, who said they could not allow humanitarian assistance in behind enemy lines because it could possibly help Kachin fighters.
Although more peace talks are scheduled to take place this month, aid workers in the region say the Burma army has continued near daily strikes using helicopter gunships and artillery, mostly concentrated around the large population centers near the Chinese border.
David Eubank, founder of the humanitarian organization Free Burma Rangers, said the way the Burma army is behaving violates the terms of the cease-fire, and could jeopardize peace talks.
"The Burma [army] wants to not only hold on to what they've got, they want to expand their control if the cease-fire falls apart because of their ability to move supplies and strengthen their positions during the cease-fire, they'll be in an even stronger position, or if the cease-fire keeps on, they'll be able to negotiate terms more favorable to the control of the Burma army," said Eubank. "So I think the reason is not for peace or for anything good, it's to strengthen the position of the Burma army.
As violence has escalated, local Chinese governments across the border have begun to prepare for a possible refugee crisis.
Hong Lei, spokesman for the China Foreign Ministry, said authorities are very concerned about the situation on the ground. China is asking the Burmese side to exercise restraint and solve the dispute through dialogue, he said, adding that competent authorities on the Chinese side have taken effective measures to manage the border regions to ensure safety of the border inhabitants.
There is extensive Chinese investment in Kachin state that includes large infrastructure projects such as the suspended Myitsone dam, and border trade comprises a significant portion of the Yunnan economy.