Myanmar says jets used against Kachin rebels

Aung Hla Tun

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

reformist credentials.

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

is known.

"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)