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New York Times: Myanmar Announces Unilateral Cease-fire

Myanmar Announces Unilateral Cease-fire (click to view article)

BANGKOK — After weeks of intense fighting near the border with China, the Myanmar government on Friday announced what appeared to be a unilateral cease-fire in their offensive against ethnic Kachin rebels. The government also said it would pursue peace talks.

The announcement, which was made on state television during the main evening newscast, came only hours after the Parliament approved a resolution calling for an end to a year and a half of fighting and as Myanmar’s actions have come under increased international scrutiny.

The Myanmar military has intensified its campaign against the Kachin rebels since the end of December, and witnesses described frequent shelling in and around Laiza, the rebel base. The rebels had been losing territory almost daily.

Many questions remain about the cease-fire, including whether the military will comply with the order. President Thein Sein — who is not the commander in chief under the country’s new constitution — had suggested several times that the army was not supposed to go on the offensive, but only to act in its defense, but it was unclear in the past how strongly he was pushing the army to stop fighting.

Friday’s announcement was much more detailed, including a precise time (by 6 a.m. Saturday) when the cease-fire was supposed to go into effect.

It was unclear what the reaction of the Kachin rebels would be. One leading Kachin voice, the Rev. Samson Hkalam, the general secretary of the Kachin Baptist Convention, said by telephone that he was skeptical of the announcement.

“According to our experience, the declarations by the government are one thing,” he said. “What the army does is another.”

He also said the cease-fire was very limited in its scope. “There are many areas that Myanmar troops occupy,” he said. “The cease-fire applies to only one area.”

According to the announcement, the cease-fire applies to the area around the town of Lajayang, the site of the major fighting. It is unclear what that means for the rest of Kachin State, where the rebels control numerous pockets of territory.

The statement said the military had “concluded its conditional mission” in the Lajayang offensive and had secured the “safety of troops.”

The government’s statement on Friday said there had been more than 1,000 “battles” between Kachin rebels and government troops since Dec. 10. It also said the military had suffered many casualties but did not give a number. A military officer, however, said 218 government troops have been killed and 764 injured since Nov. 15, according to an official tally. The officer requested anonymity because he was not authorized to make public the information, which came from a military report.

The cease-fire announcement came as the commander in chief of Myanmar’s armed forces, Vice Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, is on an official visit to Singapore and Malaysia.

The fighting has raised concerns that Myanmar is backsliding in its efforts at national reconciliation. Myanmar has faced a chorus of international concern, including from its ally China, which issued a sharp rebuke on Thursday after an artillery shell landed on its territory.

Inside Myanmar, there has also been increased tension among other ethnic groups, a point underlined by two documents issued by minority groups since the year began.

One of those statements was co-issued by the leaders of the Wa, a heavily armed ethnic group whose territory is also near the Chinese border. The Wa have thousands of men under arms but have a cease-fire agreement with the government.

The Wa statement, which was co-signed by two other groups, warned of a return to civil war in Myanmar. “The country will return backward” if the fighting does not stop, the statement said.

The debates leading up to the cease-fire have been notable for the relative absence of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader and Nobel laureate, who earlier in the week was quoted as saying that she would not take a major role in seeking a halt to the fighting because it was not her purview in Parliament.

Instead, the speaker of the lower house of Parliament, Thura Shwe Mann, commanded the spotlight. He rushed the motion for an immediate halt to hostilities in Kachin State to a vote — without prior discussion — because he said the issue was “vital for the country,” according to the Myanmar media.