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Burma’s Kachin Conflict Escalates, Drawing Concern from UN

FILE - Ethnic Karen have abandoned a camp and villages in eastern Burma to seek refuge in Thailand following government attacks on ethnic insurgents.
FILE - Ethnic Karen have abandoned a camp and villages in eastern Burma to seek refuge in Thailand following government attacks on ethnic insurgents.
Ethnic rebel troops in Burma’s northern Kachin state are the last insurgent group to hold off signing a cease-fire with the government.

In recent weeks, fighting has spiked, sending a few thousand civilians fleeing. At the same time, the U.N. and other groups are raising concerns over reports that Burmese soldiers in the conflict are raping civilians.

This week, the U.N. joined international rights groups in calling on the Burmese government to investigate war crimes and sexual violence committed by the Burmese military.

The U.N. Security Council on Friday is expected to discuss a report in which Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calls on the Burmese government to fully investigate the allegations of sexual violence perpetrated by the army.

The outcry comes amidst fighting in rebel-controlled areas in Kachin state, where observers estimate at least 3,000 people have fled fighting between the Burmese military and the rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

The medical aid group Free Burma Rangers has been sending medics and documentation teams to war-torn areas for more than a decade.

A team leader, who asked not to be named to avoid retribution from the government, said his team interviewed a teenage rape victim who had fled a village attacked by the army.

"You can lose your family members, you can lose your life, you can be tortured to death, you can definitely lose your possessions, you can be afraid you might get raped, and you might get killed. These are all real things that are happening and for some people it's not might anymore, it's happened already. So I think what's happening is evil should and should be stopped," the FBR team leader said.

The Free Burma Rangers documentation team claimed they also found evidence of torture in recently attacked villages.

Burma government spokesperson Ye Htut told VOA the army attacks in the rebel areas were in retaliation for the death of a high-ranking officer who was killed while off-duty.

The spokesperson pledged the government of Burma, also known as Myanmar, will take action against soldiers found to be committing crimes.

“I can guarantee you that the government and the Myanmar military are practicing zero tolerance on torturing civilians and using rape as a weapon. So if they provide the evidence on this issue, we are ready to take the action who was responsible for this crime," said Ye Htut.

KIA General Gun Maw, speaking to VOA in Washington this week, expressed concern that the ongoing fighting could jeopardize peace talks scheduled to take place next month.

He said as a member of the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, he normally goes to Rangoon to attend the NCCT meetings, but he will have to reconsider those plans should the fighting become more severe.

During his visit to Washington, he requested the U.S. send representatives to attend the peace talks, but the State Department has yet to respond.

Representatives from the Chinese government have played a mediating role in the past.

The site of the most recent clashes in southern Kachin state is a busy transit point near the Chinese border with popular illegal logging and trade routes, a gas pipeline and government-controlled opium fields.

Analysts said the clashes put the Burmese government in a better bargaining position for future peace talks, and also serve to undermine the alliance between the KIA and neighboring ethnic armies.