YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Twenty-two humanitarian and development groups have called for a halt to fighting between Myanmar's government and ethnic rebels in the country's north and for the protection of civilians affected by the conflict.
The groups signing the statement, circulated Thursday, include the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, Plan International and Save the Children.
"We are alarmed about incidents of civilians being killed, injured and displaced due to intensification of military operations and use of heavy artillery in close proximity" to populated areas, the local and international groups said. There have been reports that civilians who fled to internal displacement camps have found themselves caught in the combat.
Kachin state and northern Shan state have been wracked by intense fighting since November, with the government employing airstrikes and artillery attacks. It is fighting guerrillas from the Kachin minority and three other ethnic groups seeking greater autonomy.
Khon Ja, a Kachin activist, said the government has not allowed humanitarian groups to have access to thousands of displaced civilians.
The military rejected the allegation.
"There is no organization that the government wouldn't allow, if they work and ask according to the rules and regulations," said Maj. Gen. Aung Ye Win in the Commander-in-Chief's Office.
The groups also called for all sides to "constructively engage in a mediated peace dialogue to achieve sustainable peace in Myanmar."
Yanghee Lee, the U.N.'s special envoy on human rights, last week criticized the government's heavy-handed response to conflicts with ethnic minorities. She said the government denied her access to some of the more troubled areas in the north during a 12-day mission to Myanmar.
"It is evident that the situation in Kachin and at the northern borders is deteriorating. Those in Kachin state tell me that the situation is now worse than any point in the past few years," Lee said.
The unrest in Kachin and northern Shan states is just one of the simmering conflicts in Myanmar. The government has cease-fire agreements with other ethnic rebel groups which it is seeking to turn into a comprehensive peace agreement.