Burma rebel battles 'leave 31 dead'

Recent battles between Burmese government troops and Kachin ethnic rebels have killed 31 people, a state-run newspaper said, as the ongoing fighting threatens the country’s reform and reconciliation process.

The New Light of Myanmar reported 11 clashes in the last week of April, including what it said was an attack by rebels of the Kachin Independence Army on a government border guard base.

It accused the rebel group of trying to seize the base “to save face for its declining military prestige”.

It said 29 of the 31 dead were Kachin rebels, while government forces suffered two dead and 15 wounded.

Separate reports said that the Kachin had blown up parts of three bridges on Wednesday and Thursday, and their guerrillas forced 345 villagers to serve as porters.

The 8,000-strong Kachin militia is one of several minority ethnic rebel armies in Burma who say they are fighting for greater autonomy from the central government.

Since taking office last year as a military-backed but elected president, Thein Sein has sought to roll back many of the repressive actions of the military regimes that preceded him.

He has focused on democratisation, including reconciliation with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her pro-democracy movement, but has also tackled the long-running problem of ethnic rebellions.

Thein Sein’s government has reached ceasefires with several ethnic rebel groups, but peace talks with the Kachin have failed to reach agreement.

Fighting erupted in Kachin state in June last year for the first time since 1994, when an earlier peace deal had been struck.

The Kachin said the government launched an offensive to drive away its forces after they refused to abandon a strategic base near a hydro-power plant that is a joint venture with a Chinese company.

The rebels fought back, destroying bridges and power pylons in the area, and as many as 70,000 villagers fled from the fighting.


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