Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Myanmar army told 'no attacks' in conflict areas

Myanmar has told the military to halt all offensives in ethnic minority conflict zones, a top official said, but admitted that the order was sometimes proving hard to implement on the ground.

The regime's olive branch to ethnic guerrillas is one of a number of budding reforms in the country also known as Burma, ruled outright by the military for almost five decades until a nominally civilian government took over last year.

The army-backed government on Thursday signed a ceasefire with Karen rebels in the eastern border region, raising hopes of an end to one of the world's longest-running civil conflicts.

A day later, President Thein Sein ordered the army not to attack any ethnic minority groups except in self-defence, Khin Yi, the minister of immigration and population, told AFP in an interview in the capital Naypyidaw.

"The order covers the whole country," added the former national police chief, who was present at the signing of the ceasefire with the Karen National Union.

An earlier presidential order issued in mid-December for the military to cease attacks against ethnic Kachin guerillas in the north of the country failed to stop heavy fighting in the region, according to the rebels.

Khin Yi conceded that skirmishes were continuing in some areas.

"Some of the grassroot level units, when on patrolling duty, unexpectedly met each other and exchanged fire. Sometimes, the order (not to attack) did not reach to the grassroot level," he said.

The Kachin rebels have not yet taken up the government's offer of peace talks, Khin Yi said.

Civil war has gripped parts of Myanmar since its independence in 1948, and an end to the conflicts, as well as to alleged human rights abuses involving government troops, is a key demand of the international community.

In December, a ceasefire deal was reached between the local government and the Shan State Army-South, another major ethnic guerrilla group.

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