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May 28, 2017

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YANGON -- Myanmar has denied allegations that its military killed three civilians in an artillery attack on a Kachin rebel stronghold, and called for independent confirmation of the incident.

The Kachin Independence Army on Monday said three people, including a teenager and elderly man, died and several others were wounded after army shells landed in the center of Laiza, a town bordering China that is the rebels' base.

But presidential spokesman Ye Htut said that the military — or Tatmadaw — had not fired at the time of the morning incident.

"There was no firing with heavy weapons from Tatmadaw side," he said in a post on his Facebook page seen Tuesday. "We have learnt ... that there were no planes or helicopters flying around that region. So we need to get independent confirmation for the reason of this explosion."

His comments come amid mounting international outcry over the military's use of air strikes in an upsurge of fighting since December, that has raised questions over the government's commitment to reform after a transition from military rule.

Britain joined the U.S. and U.N. in criticizing the military's use of jets and helicopters in the festering conflict, which erupted again in June 2011 when a 17-year cease-fire collapsed.

"These tactics represent a marked escalation, and pose a significant risk of civilian casualties," Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt told the British parliament on Monday.

Calling for an "immediate cessation" of violence and access for humanitarian workers, he warned the situation is "increasingly serious and could present a threat to these wider reforms."

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