US Renews Concern for Burmese Refugees

Posted March 15th, 2012 at 9:40 am (UTC-5)
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A top U.S. envoy has voiced renewed concern for the plight of thousands of refugees displaced in upper Burma by ongoing fighting between government troops and ethnic Kachin rebels.

Derek Mitchell, speaking Thursday in Rangoon, acknowledged progress the government has been making in securing cease-fires with many of the country's key ethnic groupings. But he said peace in Kachin state remains elusive.

“In Kachin state, I think violence is still sticking out, inconsistent with the trends toward dialogue and confidence building and reconciliation that we have seen.”

Earlier this month, representatives of the Kachin Independence Organization met with a government delegation in a Chinese border town, looking to resolve the predicament of 60,000 Kachin refugees displaced by fighting since last June. A report from the Kachin News Group said the KIO was also seeking the withdrawal of government troops from all rebel territories.

No breakthroughs have been reported.

Western governments, led by the United States and the European Union, have pressed Burma to end the decades of conflict and make other political reforms in exchange for lifting sanctions originally imposed on the country's former military junta. U.S. officials have also linked sanction easements to government promises to ensure free and fair by-elections April 1.

The new government, which came to power last year, is dominated by former and current military officials. It has launched several initiatives aimed at ethnic and political reconciliation, including dialogue with political opponents and the lifting of some restrictions on the press.