YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Ethnic Kachin rebels in Myanmar said clashes in the country's north continued Saturday despite a government promise to cease fire, casting doubt over hopes that the bloody conflict there could end soon.
Myanmar's military had declared Friday it would stop attacks against rebels around the town of Lajayang, near Myanmar's northeastern border with China, starting Saturday morning because it had achieved its goal of securing an army outpost there that had been surrounded by insurgents.
An official with the Kachin Independence Army confirmed Lajayang was quiet, but he said fighting was taking place in at least three other rebel positions in the region on Saturday. The official declined to be identified because he is not a spokesman for the rebel group.
The two sides have been fighting for 1 1/2 years, but the latest combat has represented a major escalation because the government began using fighter planes and helicopter gunships in its attacks starting on Christmas Day. Many of the skirmishes have centered on Lajayang, which is about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from Laiza, a town that also serves as a political headquarters for the guerrillas.
The upsurge in violence has drawn calls from the international community for the two sides to put down their arms and negotiate, but there was no public indication of any direct talks taking place.
Speaking at a development forum in the capital, Naypyitaw, President Thein Sein invited the Kachin rebels to an upcoming peace conference with 10 other armed ethnic groups, although no date has been set for the talks.
"I just want to stress that we continue to try to achieve genuine peace in the country," Thein Sein said, adding that he had ordered the army and other government agencies to seek peaceful solution.
But the Kachin rebels, he said, "will need to reciprocate in a similar way."
There was no immediate word on whether the Kachin would take up the president's offer.
Tension with ethnic minorities fighting for greater autonomy in Myanmar is considered one of the biggest major long-term challenges for reformist Thein Sein, who inherited power in 2011 from the army, which ruled for almost half a century.
The Kachin, like Myanmar's other ethnic minorities, have long sought greater autonomy from the central government. They are the only major ethnic rebel group that has not reached a truce with Thein Sein's administration.