This week, Myanmar admitted using aircraft to attack ethnic Kachin rebels. The United Nations and United States have expressed concern about escalation of the conflict. Separately, more news reports also emerged on ethnic Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar. Thailand has announced plans to repatriate 73 Rohingya found adrift off Phuket to Myanmar (pictured), despite pleas from Human Rights Watch and other NGOs to allow them to stay and be considered for refugee status.
Report: Myanmar Military Admits to Airstrikes on Kachin Rebels [New York Times, 2 Jan 2013]
Analysis: Thailand: Don’t Deport Rohingya ‘Boat People’ [Human Rights Watch, 2 Jan 2013]
Although Myanmar's current civilian government has been able to make progress in peace deals with most ethnic rebel groups in the country, the conflict with the Kachin has apparently intensified in recent days.
Notably, although the military has previously denied using aircraft against Kachin rebels, on Thursday the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper acknowledged the airstrike near the Chinese border. The attack was described as the military regaining territory from the Kachin Independence Organisation and seizing weapons, with the newspaper report adding the army "did not launch offensives".
Myanmar's authorities are well aware of international scrutiny, and how continued clashes may overshadow the country's engagement with the international community - especially with new ties being established with the United States and Myanmar due to take the chairmanship of ASEAN next year. US President Barack Obama highlighted peace and reconciliation with ethnic groups in his speech, during his historic visit to Myanmar.
The unrest in Rakhine state is also drawing international attention, as is the response by neighbouring ASEAN countries to Rohingya fleeing Myanmar. The boat stranded off Thailand was carrying Rohingya on their way to Malaysia, which has become a major destination for Rohingya refugees. On Sunday, some 500 Rohingya are believed to have entered Malaysia by boat, one of the largest groups to arrive in Malaysia to date. However, many countries in the region, such as Thailand, have a policy of not accepting boat people.