Burma ceasefire 'holds' in rebel-held Kachin areas

Ethnic Kachin rebels in Burma have expressed doubt about a ceasefire

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A ceasefire announced by the Burmese military fighting rebels in northern Kachin state appears to be holding.

Rebels have told the BBC there was some sporadic shelling, and reports of fighting, in the hours after the truce, which has since died down.

But rebel soldiers on the frontline remain wary and nervous, the BBC's Jonathan Head reports from Kachin.

The military said on Friday it would end offensive attacks "except in self defence" from 06:00 on Saturday.

A spokesman for the rebels told the BBC Burmese service that there was shelling at Lajaryan, some six miles (10km) south of their stronghold Laiza, between 09:00 and 13:00 on Saturday but it has been quiet since.

Fighting has also been reported in the areas of Pha Kant and Moe Mate, he said without giving further details.

At the scene

Up on the most forward hilltop still held by the Kachin Independence Army, they were digging out the bodies of men buried by one of the Burmese military air strikes on Friday. They were nervous. A report of a Burmese helicopter gunship taking off sent them scurrying into the bunkers they've dug into the thickly-forested hillside. None of them believed in the ceasefire announced by the Burmese government.

Across the valley we could see other hilltops, recently captured by Burmese forces. If the Burmese military does respect this ceasefire, it is perhaps because it has driven the Kachin forces back into ever-smaller pockets of territory. It has thrown everything at the KIA in recent weeks - hundred of soldiers on both sides have died. It could probably take the Kachin headquarters in the border town of Laiza.

That, though, would bring the fighting right up to the Chinese frontier, something the Burmese government has probably been warned against. Still, Laiza, a neat and orderly little town, has lost much of its civilian population. The Kachin people still here have been bracing themselves for the worst. There is everywhere a dogged resolve to keep fighting - they've been doing it for more than half a century. But up here, the promises of a prosperous and peaceful new Burma sound very hollow.

The BBC's Jonathan Head, in Kachin, says none of the rebels are prepared to believe that the army they have been fighting for the last 18 months is ready for peace.

The occasional thud of mortar or reports of a Burmese helicopter gunship sent them scurrying into their bunkers throughout Saturday, he said.

Displaced

The ceasefire announcement came hours after the fledgling parliament passed a motion calling for peace talks to end the fighting which followed the collapse of a 17-year truce in mid-2011.

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

Violence has escalated in recent weeks, since the military began a new offensive on rebel fighters they accused of trying to block supply routes.

The Kachin Independence Organisation - which is seeking greater autonomy within Burma - is the only major rebel group not to have agreed a ceasefire with the government.

It has told our correspondent that it wants the Burmese military to scale back its operations throughout Kachin state and not just around Laiza.

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 not only brought international condemnation, but also raised questions about the extent of civilian government control over the armed forces, who ruled Burma for decades.

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