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Death toll climbs in Myanmar rebel unrest

16 February 2015, 16:11

Yangon - Escalating clashes between Myanmar's army and ethnic Kokang fighters killed dozens of rebels over the weekend, including eight who died in custody, state-backed media reported Monday as some 2,000 people fled the violence.

Government troops also found a haul of 100 small arms and ammunition as they battled rebels around Laukkai, the main city in the Kokang region of northern Shan state, the Global New Light of Myanmar said.

Nearly 2,000 people have fled into central Myanmar, state media said, while others have crossed the border into China to escape the bloodshed, some of the heaviest recent clashes in a nation plagued by ethnic insurgencies.

"The captured Kokang defectors all died of wounds they had suffered," the English-language Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported, adding that 18 others had been killed in the fighting.

Myanmar's military last week said dozens of its soldiers have been killed in the week-long bloodshed.

Unrest flared in Kokang on February 9, shattering nearly six years of relative calm, in a blow to the quasi-civilian regime as it looks to forge a historic nationwide ceasefire to end the country's myriad ethnic minority conflicts.

Also read: Dozens of Myanmar troops killed fighting northern rebels

Details of the fighting in the remote, mountainous region remain difficult to confirm.

Myanmar's military has been unusually candid about the number of casualties it has suffered in the latest fighting.

State-backed media reports Monday showed the country's army chief visiting wounded troops and said the fight against "renegade" Kokang rebels was a "just war".

Observers say this approach may be an attempt to drum up sympathy for government soldiers in the former army-run nation, and justify a severe crackdown on the rebels.

The Kokang have been joined by the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the powerful Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which have both continued to battle the government's forces in other areas of Shan and nearby Kachin states.

Despite the latest flare up of violence, the government, military and a handful of ethnic armed groups signed a commitment Thursday to continue talks, laying out an aim to build a union with "federal principles".

But a long hoped for nationwide ceasefire agreement to end the civil wars that have plagued Myanmar since independence in 1948 remains elusive.


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