Myanmar rejects US criticism over ethnic conflict

Associated Press

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar has rejected the latest U.S. criticism of its conflict with ethnic Kachin rebels, and deplores that Washington still calls the country by its old name, Burma, according to a statement published Saturday.

A Myanmar Foreign Ministry statement published in the state-run Myanma Ahlin newspaper "rejected" a news release issued Thursday by the U.S. Embassy that had expressed "deep concern" over the ongoing violence in Kachin state in northern Myanmar.

The U.S. statement also noted that according to media and NGO reports, Myanmar's army "continues a military offensive in the vicinity of the Kachin Independence Army headquarters in Laiza" despite the government's own unilateral cease-fire announcement on Jan. 19.

The exchange is a reminder that the rapprochement between the countries is still far from complete as Myanmar transitions from ostracized military state to a fledging democracy, even though Washington has eased most sanctions it imposed on the previous army regime because of its repressive policies.

The Foreign Ministry said it strongly rejected the U.S. assertions because they "could cause misunderstanding in the international community" and because they failed to mention anything about "terrorist actions and atrocities committed by the KIA" and mentioned only army actions.

The military has been actively engaging the Kachin in combat for 1 1/2 years, but fighting escalated recently when the government began using fighter planes and helicopter gunships in its attacks starting on Christmas Day. It says it was acting in self-defense because Kachin attacks kept it from supplying its forward bases, but the Kachin says they were seeking to stop the army from attacking their headquarters in the town of Laiza, near the border with China.

The Kachin, like Myanmar's other ethnic minorities, have long sought greater autonomy from the central government. They are the only major ethnic rebel group that has not reached a truce with Thein Sein's administration.

The government also upbraided the embassy for the use of the terms "Burma" and "Burmese Government" in its statement and pointed out that even President Obama during his visit here in November and in an address to a Southeast Asian-U.S summit meeting had referred to the country as "Myanmar."

The statement said Myanmar "strongly objects" to the use of "Burma" by the US embassy, saying that it is "unethical" and that government hopes the embassy avoids actions that may affect mutual understanding and cooperation that has recently been restored between the countries.

The then-ruling junta changed the country's name to Myanmar from Burma in 1988, a year after a failed pro-democracy uprising led to the installation of a strict military government. Pro-democracy activists mostly preferred to use the old name Burma to indicate their rejection of the legitimacy of military rule, a stance also taken by the U.S. and British governments.

Washington was the leading state critic of military rule, which ended in 2011 after a pro-military party won a general election and the junta's prime minister, retired Gen. Thein Sein took office as president. he has instituted political and economic reforms, but his critics feel that the civilian government is just a front for continued military domination from behind the scene.

The previous military junta frequently accuses Western powers of interfering in the country's affairs, and Myanmar's pro-democracy movement of collaborating with them.

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