YANGON: Myanmar’s powerful army has admitted a heavy weapons strike in strife-torn northern Kachin state that rebels say killed over 20 people, government-backed media said on Friday, as escalation of the fighting cast doubt over faltering peace talks.
The military said its artillery hit a Kachin Independence Army (KIA) training camp by accident on Wednesday’s incident, which the rebel group said was one of the biggest single attacks it had faced in recent years.
“The Tatmadaw [army]camp fired a warning shot of a large-caliber weapon which fell and exploded at a KIA camp, causing casualties,” according to a report in the English language Global New Light of Myanmar.
The report said the incident, near the rebels’ stronghold town of Laiza on the border with China, was in response to earlier rebel assaults on its troops in the area.
Some 100,000 people have been displaced in remote, resource-rich Kachin since a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the rebels broke down in June 2011.
Myanmar’s quasi-civilian government has vowed to end the civil wars that have plagued the country’s ethnic minority areas for half a century.
But talks aimed at securing a nationwide ceasefire deal appeared to hit the buffers in recent months, as long-held mistrust and the continued fighting in Kachin overshadowed negotiations.
The KIA, which said over a dozen people were also injured in the deadly attack, has accused the army of increasing its presence in the area since late September.
“If they want to try and destroy us from the root, then peace will be a distant goal,” spokesman La Nan told Agence France-Presse following the attack, adding that rebels were braced for further incidents.
The government has inked ceasefire agreements with 14 of the 16 major armed ethnic groups, but deals with the KIA and Ta’ang National Liberation Army in eastern Shan state have proved elusive.
Efforts to reach a nationwide peace deal have snagged on key issues, particularly the scope of future political dialogue and the concept of a federal armed forces.
New skirmishes have broken out in several states along the country’s eastern border in recent months, further complicating the talks.
The Myanmar Peace Center, which is mediating the ceasefire negotiations, said another round of meetings is expected to begin next week.