World Bulletin / News Desk
A coalition of ethnic armed groups in Myanmar has warned that fresh military offensives in ethnic areas could derail the country’s peace process.
Local media have reported that the military has been using helicopter gunships and fighter jets in an effort to root out rebels near the northern border town of Laiza -- the Kachin Independence Army's headquarters -- after fighting erupted in the area last month.
On Saturday, the vice-chairperson of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) -- an umbrella association of 11 ethnic armed groups -- claimed that the army was responsible for fresh fighting in northern Kachin State, eastern Shan State and Karen State
“Fighting in these three areas started because of military offensives,” Naing Hantha told Anadolu Agency by phone.
“They [the military] should realize that peace is built through political channels, not through fighting."
Naing Hantha demanded the military stop the offensives immediately, and look at finding ways to end the conflict through negotiation.
“We strongly condemn the Tamadaw [the military] for the fresh offensive,” he added.
The warning came as hundreds of activists gathered in commercial capital Yangon on Saturday to demand an end to armed conflicts between the central government and ethnic armed organizations, which have intermittently rocked parts of Myanmar since it achieved independence from colonizer Great Britain in 1948.
Over the past few weeks, thousands of people have fled to safe towns in Karen, after the military and a supporting militia began operations against a small rebel splinter group in Hlaingbwe Township.
A two-year-old was killed and two others injured last week when heavy artillery hit a Kachin village controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Shan's Mongkok Township.
The rebel group is one of the few groups not to sign up to a national peace accord, and control parts of Kachin -- which borders China in the country's north -- and Shan in the east.
The incident prompted protests in towns across Kachin this week, with the U.S. embassy in Myanmar voicing concerns over the current situation in ethnic areas where fighting has erupted.
Since winning the 2015 election, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has made peace and national reconciliation a priority for her government -- the first-elected civilian government in six decades.
Fighting has left more than 100,000 people displaced in 175 camps in Kachin, Shan and Karen, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.