Conflict & Justice

Myanmar: war skirting Chinese air space?


Kachin Independence Army soldiers ride elephants toward the front lines in Kachin state, Myanmar, April 1, 2012.


Will Baxter

There are growing reports of Myanmar military choppers and jets buzzing above Kachin State, where a mountain-dwelling resistance force (the Kachin Independence Army) has long defended terrain against state-backed incursions.

That helicopters and jets are circling above this war zone is not in dispute. The government, according to the AP, says its aerial fleet is simply resupplying zones struck by rebels. The guerrillas insist they're being bombarded by airborne munitions and they've circulated grainy video to support their claim. A pro bono, anti-government medic squad, the Free Burma Rangers, has some unverified shots of choppers and jets as well.

But geography makes this uptick in fighting doubly interesting

All of these attack aircraft are whizzing above an area that's right next to China. Sending jets and attack choppers into this air space without at least notifying China -- a stalwart economic and military benefactor in Myanmar -- would be outlandishly bold. Myanmar generals would most likely prefer China's blessing.

As Myanmar-focused journalist Francis Wade writes, the Kachin fighters' insistence that the aircraft are dipping into Chinese air space is plausible.

This amounts to an escalation in a seemingly intractable conflict -- with an added international twist. Hardly the brightest New Year's beginning for a nation hoping to overcome a war-ridden past.