Thousands Flee Fighting in Burma

Posted June 15th, 2011 at 2:30 pm (UTC-5)
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Thousands of people are fleeing deadly clashes between Burmese government forces and ethnic minority rebels near the country's border with China.

Rights groups say about 2,000 Burmese villagers have fled their homes, most of them crossing into China. However, reports say thousands of others attempting to enter China were rejected by Chinese border guards and forced to take refuge in the woods.

Burmese ethnic media say the fighting, which began last week in Kachin state between government forces and Kachin rebels, has spread into Shan state.

The Kachin News Group reported that two battalions of the ethnic Kachin Independence Army have been engaged with Burmese forces since Tuesday evening in northern Shan state. It said the fighting continued Wednesday.

The Shan Herald, representing the Shan ethnic group, reported that about five government battalions were moving against the headquarters of the Shan State Army, also in Shan state.

Meanwhile in Kachin state, the Thailand-based Kachin News Group said KIA forces had triggered land mines damaging three bridges and clashed with government forces near a strategic hydroelectric dam on the Shweli River.

The news group also says a former Kachin military leader and a representative to the national parliament have been placed under house arrest in the Kachin state capital, Myitkyina. It says both continue to wield influence over Kachin forces in the field.

The clashes with Burma's Kachin minority have been centered in a region where China is building hydropower plants near the Chinese border. The last 30 of some 100 Chinese engineers working on two hydropower plants and dams were permitted to leave Tuesday, bringing the operations to a standstill.

Burma's officials have not made any statements regarding the clashes. It is almost impossible for outsiders to confirm reports about the fighting. The border areas are largely off limits to foreigners and journalists.

The Kachin Independence Army, like several other ethnic militias in Burma, signed a cease-fire agreement with the central government several years ago. But those agreements began to break down in 2009, when Burma demanded that the militia groups come under central authority and serve as part of a national border guard. That prompted some militias to resume fighting.