Reports of shelling in northern Myanmar

Myanmar army says Kokang fighters are getting help from other ethnic rebels groups and former Chinese soldiers.

    More shelling have been reported in northern Myanmar, as government troops battle with armed rebels, who are demanding greater autonomy for ethnic Chinese in the region, which borders China. 

    Several artillery fire were heard in the Kokang region of Shan State throughtout Saturday, according to Al Jazeera's Adrian Brown, who is reporting from across the border in the Chinese city of Nansan.

    There were no immediate reports of casualties, but our correspondent quoted a Chinese reporter as saying that he saw "20 bodies of men and women lying in one street" in Laukkai, a town in Myanmar.

     Myanmar's ethnic minority dilemma

    Between 30,000 to 50,000 people have fled Kokang to the neighbouring Yunnan province of China, to escape the fighting.

    Myanmar has already declared a state of emergency in the conflict-torn border region.

    Kokang is dominated by ethnic Han Chinese, and the region has been embroiled in fights since conflicts between the armed group Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and government troops intensified on February 9.

    On Saturday, Lt. Gen. Mya Tun Oo, a top military official in Myanmar, said allied minority rebel groups and former Chinese soldiers recruited as mercenaries, are supporting the ethnic Kokang rebels in fighting government troops.

    The United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) said the Kokang rebels share the groups' demand for greater autonomy from the central government.

    The UNFC urged the government to make peace with the Kokang through negotiations, which they hope will lead to a political settlement with all the groups.

    The clashes in Kokang have alarmed China, which fears a further influx of villagers fleeing violence and called this week for peace on the border.

    Myanmar has maintained close diplomatic relationship with China, but the fighting has created a potential flash point between the neighbouring countries.   

    The MNDAA rebels was formerly part of the Communist Party of Burma, a powerful China-backed armed group that battled the Myanmar government until the group splintered in 1989.

    Fighting between the rebels and the army in 2009 pushed tens of thousands of refugees into southwestern China, angering the government in Beijing.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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