Burma's military has issued a Christmas ultimatum to ethnic Kachin rebels in the country's far north to withdraw forces blocking a key route used by government troops or face a major attack, a rebel spokesman said Monday.
But the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the political wing of the Kachin rebel group fighting for greater autonomy in Kachin state, said it would not respond to the ultimatum note and that it was ready to face any onslaught.
The note, sent to the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) through peace mediators by the Burmese military's northern division commander Tun Tun Nang, wanted KIA troops to stop blocking a vital route taken by government troops to Lajayang near Laiza, the KIO's de facto headquarters.
The ultimatum was set for Christmas day on Tuesday.
"Yes, we received a letter that wanted KIA troops to retreat from the path of the Burmese military to Lajayang station by Dec. 25th. It was signed on Dec. 23 but we received it this morning," KIO spokesman La Nan told RFA's Burmese service on Monday.
"It was written on the letter that all KIA troops must retreat on time. If not, it seems there will be a huge attack on the KIA. The KIA troops are getting ready to face it," he said.
"We have no reason to respond to Tun Tun Naung, but we sent a note of protest over this letter to Minister U Aung Min because we are working on the peace process led U Aung Min."
Aung Min, a minister in President Thein Sein's office, is coordinating the peace process with armed ethnic groups.
The KIA claimed about a week ago that dozens of government troops were killed following fighting in Lajayang which erupted after the KIA blocked government forces from delivering rations and other supplies to the nearby Lung Rawk post.
A Kachin peace mediator, Gwam Jar, said there was no immediate response from Aung Min's office and called for mediation efforts to be stepped up to ease tensions.
Fighting between government troops and the KIA has been going on every day in recent weeks.
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced since June 2011, when a 17-year ceasefire between the government and Kachin rebels collapsed.
Several rounds of talks between the Burmese government and the KIO since November have yielded little outcome, with both sides saying they are defending themselves from the other in the ongoing violence.
Burmese authorities have signed peace agreements with 10 other armed ethnic groups since a new reformist government led by Thein Sein came to power in March last year.
Thein Sein has ordered a halt to military offensives against ethnic rebels and promised to work toward national reconciliation following decades of military rule in Burma, which has been embroiled in wars with ethnic groups in its borderlands since the country was founded in 1948.
Reported by Ye Htet for RFA's Burmese service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.