YANGON, Jan 3 (Reuters) - Myanmar's military has used jets
to attacks rebel fighters in northern Kachin state, the
government said on Thursday, its first admission of an
intensification of a conflict that has raised doubts about its
Rebel sources have reported aerial bombings, shelling and
even the use of chemical weapons since Dec. 28 after the Kachin
Independence Army (KIA) ignored an ultimatum to stop blocking an
army supply route in the hilly, resource-rich state where more
than 50,000 people have been displaced.
Official newspapers said that air support was used on Dec.
30 to thwart KIA fighters who had occupied a hill and were
attacking logistics units of the Tatmadaw, as Myanmar's military
"The Tatmadaw troops cleared Point-771 hill and its
surrounding areas where the KIA troops were attacking the
Tatmadaw logistic troops," the New Light of Myanmar, a
government mouthpiece, said. "The air cover was used in the
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced concern on
Wednesday over reports of helicopters and fighter jets being
used in the state bordering China. The KIA said the attacks were
intended to clear the path for an assault on its headquarters in
Ban called on Myanmar's government to "desist from any
action that could endanger the lives of civilians" and
reiterated demands for humanitarian aid groups to be granted
access, U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky said in a statement.
President Thein Sein's quasi-civilian administration insists
it wants a ceasefire and political dialogue. It says troops have
acted only in self-defence and on Thursday denied having plans
to seize the KIA's stronghold.
The escalation of fighting has raised doubts about the
sincerity of the reformist ex-generals running the government
and the extent of their power in a country the size of Britain
and France plagued by decades of internal conflict.
Some analysts and diplomats say central government is either
not fully committed to peace with the KIA or unable to assert
control over the military, which still dominates politics and
the economy despite formally ceding power in March 2011.
Colonel James Lum Dau, a Thai-based spokesman for the KIA's
political wing, said Kachin officials on the ground had reported
up to 300 people killed in air strikes.
"We are in a defensive position. Right now more people are
suffering not only bombings, but shelling and spraying of
chemical weapons with helicopter gunships and jets," he said.
"Only god knows what to do. We are praying."
It is difficult for journalists to independently verify
accounts from the two sides.
Fighting erupted in Kachin in June 2010, ending a 17-year
truce, and has continued even as government negotiators have
agreed ceasefires elsewhere with ethnic Shan, Chin, Mon and
Karen militias after decades of fighting in border areas.
Mistrust runs deep between the military and the KIA, which
was once backed by China, and multiple rounds of talks aimed at
reaching a ceasefire have gone nowhere. Analysts say a history
of bad blood and a battle for control of resources, including
highly lucrative jade, could be stoking the unrest.
Zaw Htay, a senior official in Thein Sein's office, told
Reuters no air strikes had taken place but K-8 trainer jets had
provided cover fire to protect ground troops from rebel attacks.
The military, he said, had no intention of seizing the KIA's
"The president has said this and at the same time he has
invited KIA leaders to come and talk with him in Naypyitaw, but
they still haven't responded," Zaw Htay said.
(Additional reporting by Paul Carsten in Bangkok; Writing by
Martin Petty; Editing by Alan Raybould)