BANGKOK: The Burmese army has admitted targeting Kachin rebels in air strikes in mountainous northern Burma, a day after the country's military-dominated government denied it had used jet fighters and attack helicopters in the fighting.
The US and United Nations have condemned the use of air power against the Kachin, which has raised questions about how much control the government of the reformist President, Thein Sein, has over the army.
The US State Department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, said the development was ''extremely troubling'' and urged the rebels and government to begin peace talks.
Called on Burma to "desist from any action that could endanger the lives of civilians" ... UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Photo: Getty Images
The UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, called on Burma's authorities to ''desist from any action that could endanger the lives of civilians living in the area or further intensify conflict in the region''.
Fighting erupted in Kachin state, which borders China, in June 2011 after rebels refused to abandon a strategic base near a hydro power plant that is a joint venture with a Chinese company.
The conflict has worsened since the rebels refused an ultimatum to vacate a supply route.
The Kachin, who say they have 10,000 soldiers, are fighting for greater autonomy and rights and are the only large ethnic rebel group that has not reached a ceasefire with the government, which came to power last year after 50 years of military rule.
A rebel group, the Free Burma Rangers, has released footage showing attack helicopters firing on the ground and military jets flying over territory controlled by the Kachin Independence Army. Photographs of jet fighters were circulating on the internet.
A post on a military-owned website said the army has carried out ''an assault mission, utilising air strikes'' less than 13 kilometres from the rebels' headquarters at Laiza.
The attack had captured a hill-top base from which the rebels had been attacking army supply convoys, the statement said.
''The situation is very tense … people are digging foxholes and trenches in the town,'' said Joseph Nbwi Naw, a Kachin priest at the headquarters, a valley town separated from China by a river.
The government had claimed it was using air forces only to ''deliver food supplies to its troops'' and to ''provide security for the workers who are repairing roads and bridges''.