In a rare statement, Burma’s Ministry of Defense has lashed out at international criticism of its actions in the Kachin conflict and it accused international organizations, embassies and media of “fabricating news” about the government and military.
In a press release on Tuesday the ministry defended Burma’s military—which is called the Tatmadaw—against reports that it had carried on its offensive against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), despite the government announcement of a unilateral ceasefire on Jan. 19.
The army “halted the regional clearance operations in Lajanyan region since 6.00 am 19 January 2013. But it had to react for self-defense on KIA who came and attacked the areas where Tatmadaw columns are active,” according to the release.
It is the first time that Defense Ministry has issued a public statement, perhaps signaling that the Burma’s powerful military is becoming more media savvy.
The ministry said the Burmese army was following President Thein Sein’s order to only act in self-defense in Kachin State. It accused the KIA of committing atrocities, including destroying of lives and property of civilians, abduction, and striking a series of civilian targets, such as roads and bridges.
The ministry then hit back at foreign governments that have claimed that Burma’s military is conducting offensive operations, adding that they ignored KIA attacks.
“Some internal and external organizations, embassies and media issued fabricated news as to the armed conflict in Kachin State that caused misunderstanding [among] people over the government and the Tatmadaw,” it said.
“The Tatmadaw is desirous of making eternal peace through ceasefire by reducing the armed conflicts in Kachin State,” the ministry added.
The US, the EU and the UN have recently stated their concerns about the use of airpower and the failure of the government ceasefire in Kachin State. The US Embassy said on Jan. 17 that “media and NGO reports indicate that the Burmese Army continues a military offensive” despite the ceasefire announcement.
Kachin rebels on Tuesday rejected the Defense Ministry’s announcement, saying the military was not committed to ending the conflict.
Instead, it is trying to divide Burma’s ethnic groups by having peace deals with ten rebel groups, while trying to crush the Kachin, said James Lum Dau, the Kachin Independence Organization’s deputy chief of foreign affairs.
“It is like the government is giving carrots to other ethnic armed groups, while giving the stick to ethnic Kachin,” he said by telephone from Thailand.
Lum Dau said Burma’s army was not acting in self defense, but conducting a ruthless military offensive against the KIA
“They use artillery, jet fighters, helicopter gunships and chemical weapons to attack the KIA and Kachin civilians, but they say that they didn’t use those weapons,” he said.
Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese military observer on the China-Burma border, who knows the ethnic armed rebel groups in the region, said the latest announcement simply continued the government’s denial of its military actions in Kachin State.
“They admitted the use of airstrikes only after the entire world knew about these acts,” he said.
The Kachin conflict began in June 2011 when a long-standing ceasefire broke down and violence escalated in late December when the military began using airstrikes against the rebels.