UK Joins International Criticism of Kachin Conflict

By Lalit K Jha 4 January 2013

WASHINGTON—The United Kingdom on Thursday joined the growing chorus of international criticism of the escalating conflict between the Burmese army and Kachin rebels, saying it was “deeply concerned” about the fighting. It called on both parties to open peace negotiations and appealed to the Burmese military to “heed their President’s calls for an end to hostilities.”

In a statement, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Hugo Swire expressed dismay at the ongoing violence in northern Kachin State, which has pressured rebel forces and displaced tens of thousands of villagers.

“I am deeply concerned by the ongoing conflict between the Burmese Army and Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Burma’s Kachin State, including recent reports of air strikes in the state. An escalation in hostilities would put at risk the chance of a lasting peace in Burma,” he said.

“It is important that all sides, including the KIA, come to the negotiating table and make renewed efforts to work towards lasting peace,” the minister said.

On Wednesday, the United State and the United Nations had also urged the warring parties to end their fighting and open a dialogue. The US has said it would formally express concern with the Burmese government over army airstrikes against Kachin rebels—attacks that were confirmed by government officials.

State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said on Thursday that the US was having “conversations in Naypyidaw and in Rangoon, trying to get a little bit more clarity on exactly what’s going on because there have also been conflicting statements from the government and the military with regard to what’s going on.”

“But our view is that all sides need to cease and desist and get into dialogue with each other,” she added.

There have been doubts over just how much influence Burma’s President Thein Sein has over the country’s powerful military, which has fought wars with ethnic rebel groups for decades and ruled Burma until recent reforms began.

The UK Foreign Office addressed these concerns and stressed that the Burmese military should follow Thein Sein’s orders and its role within the country should be “normalized.”

“It is imperative that military commanders in Burma heed their President’s calls for an end to hostilities,” Minister Swire said.

“During my meetings with the Burmese government I highlighted the importance of normalizing the role of the Burmese military. Lasting democratic reform in Burma will not be successful unless they come under the direct authority of the Burmese government,” he added.

Swire also stressed “the importance of allowing the unhindered supply of humanitarian assistance to the civilian population,” adding that Britain pledged US $5.7 million in humanitarian food aid for civilians displaced by fighting across Kachin State, including in non-government controlled areas.

About 75,000 IDPs in Kachin State remain without international aid as the Burmese government had blocked UN access to the region.