YANGON: Myanmar’s army captured a key strategic outpost in an escalating conflict in northern Kachin state, rebels said yesterday, as the government issued a rebuke to the US over its concerns about the fighting.
Bloody unrest has continued despite a government announcement of a unilateral ceasefire earlier this month, with fighting edging ever closer to the rebels’ headquarters in the busy town of Laiza on the Chinese border.
The Myanmar foreign ministry said a US embassy statement, which was issued on Thursday and said the United States “strongly opposes the ongoing fighting”, had implied the army was the sole aggressor.
Myanmar said the US release “could cause misunderstanding in the international community”, in a response printed in the state-run English language newspaper New Light of Myanmar.
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in Kachin state since June 2011, when a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) broke down. The conflict has resulted in civilian casualties, although the exact number killed is unknown.
The KIA said a major strategic post had fallen to the Myanmar military on Saturday after it came under heavy artillery fire from multiple directions.
“That was the reason it collapsed. Finally we have to abandon that area, that mountain,” James Lum Dau, the Thailand-based spokesman for the KIA’s political wing, said.
He said it was not clear whether the fighting would now move further towards Laiza —where thousands of civilians are thought to be taking shelter — but vowed that if “Laiza falls, (it) does not mean KIA falls, absolutely”.
Some civilians had already started to move, he added, but was unable to give further details.
Beijing this week urged an end to the fighting after vice foreign minister Fu Ying visited Myanmar for talks with President Thein Sein. China’s foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said the pair had agreed to maintain peace and stability on their shared border.
Chinese state-run media has reported that China’s Yunnan province is planning camps for 10,000 people in case large numbers flee across the frontier.
In its response to the US yesterday, Myanmar blamed the rebels for reigniting the unrest.
The statement also railed against Washington’s continued use of Burma, the country’s former name.
“Myanmar strongly objects the usage of the words ‘Burma’, ‘Burmese Government’ and ‘Burmese Military’ in the US Embassy’s press release”, it said, urging the avoidance of actions that could affect “mutual respect” between the nations.
The Southeast Asian nation’s official name was changed two decades ago by the former junta, which said the old term Burma was a legacy of British colonialism and implied that the ethnically torn land belonged only to the Burman majority.
Many opposition figures, including veteran activist Aung San Suu Kyi, continue to call the country Burma.