US Urges Burma to End Hostilities

Posted June 16th, 2011 at 7:25 pm (UTC-5)
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The United States is urging Burma to cease hostilities in northern ethnic minority regions, as deadly clashes between government forces and rebels have forced many refugees to flee toward neighboring China.

State Department spokeswoman Kelly McKellogg Thursday called on the Burmese authorities to start a dialogue toward reconciliation with opposition and ethnic minority groups. She said the U.S. is monitoring the situation carefully in Burma, where government forces have been carrying out an assault on ethnic rebels in the north.

The Thailand-based Kachin News Group, which has close ties to the rebels, says more than 10,000 Kachin refugees have fled to the Chinese border in recent days of clashes.

A witness told VOA that most of the refugees have been turned back at the border, and are now hiding in nearby churches and forests. But China has denied that its border guards have refused entry to thousands of refugees.

A Chinese government spokesman said that some Burmese have crossed the border to find relatives and friends, and that the government has provided assistance “in accordance with normal practice.”

The clashes in Burma have been centered around two hydroelectric dam projects on the Taping River that are being built by Chinese companies and are expected to provide China with electricity.

Local residents told VOA's Burmese service that two Burmese soldiers were killed and six wounded when members of the Kachin Independence Army, an ethnic militia group, ambushed an army vehicle Thursday. KIA leaders say they are ready for peace talks and have welcomed Burmese soldiers that want to desert the army.

Burmese officials have not made statements on the clashes. It is almost impossible for outsiders to confirm reports about the fighting because the border areas are largely off limits to foreigners and journalists.

The KIA, 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.