Burma ends military offensive against Kachin rebels

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The Burmese government has ended its military offensive against rebels in the northern state of Kachin.

In a statement hours after parliament called for an end to the fighting, it said the attacks would stop at 06:00 Saturday (23:30 GMT Friday).

The Burmese army began a new offensive last month, after a 17-year truce with the rebels ended in mid-2011.

The Kachin Independence Army is the only major rebel group not to agree a ceasefire with the government.

There has been no official response from the KIA, which is seeking greater autonomy within Burma.

Analysis

The latest ceasefire announced by the Burmese government was endorsed by the army chief and came after calls from parliament to end the military offensive.

The government stated that the operation had now achieved its aim of clearing a path where Kachin rebels had been ambushing their convoys. The most recent operation saw the army capturing important positions surrounding rebel headquarters.

KIA officials said they would want to wait to see if the army observed the ceasefire, while the government announced that the army would only respond if they were attacked.

Army troops are now well advanced into Kachin territory and soldiers from both sides are literally face-to-face. There is still a danger that a minor incident could start off the war again.

However, the head of the group's negotiation team, Sumlut Gam, told Reuters the announcement was "good to hear" but that they would wait to see what happens on Saturday.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced since the conflict was reignited.

The government acknowledged earlier this month that it had been carrying out air attacks on rebel fighters who tried to block military supply routes.

'Cooling tensions'

The statement from the information ministry said the military would "follow the command of the president not to carry out offensive attacks except in self-defence".

But it went on to say: "In an armed conflict, both sides need to halt attacks to cool tensions."

Earlier, Burma's new parliament approved a motion calling for a ceasefire and peace talks to end the 18 months of fighting between the military and Kachin rebels.

Burma's new military-backed civilian government - which has embarked on a series of reforms since elections in November 2010 - has pledged to resolve conflicts in border areas with ethnic minority groups.

But the escalation of fighting in Kachin in recent weeks has brought international condemnation, and raised questions about the extent of civilian government control over the armed forces, who ruled Burma for decades.

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