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Myanmar state media blames rebels for clashes
by Staff Writers
Yangon (AFP) June 18, 2011

Myanmar state media on Saturday accused ethnic minority rebels of starting deadly fighting near the Chinese border as an official confirmed civilians were fleeing the clashes.

In the first state news reports about the violence in Myanmar's far north, the New Light of Myanmar said government troops had acted to defend a hydropower plant, which is being built to provide power to China.

"The only objective of the Tatmadaw (army) in launching attacks on (Kachin Independence Army) KIA is just to protect its members and an important hydropower project of the nation," the report said.

A government official confirmed that the clashes with the KIA, which started near the dam project in Kachin State more than a week ago, had continued into Saturday.

"The KIA has destroyed many bridges in that region and security is very tight. Some civilians are fleeing to border areas to avoid the fighting," the official said.

Rebels blame the government for starting the clashes and claim more than 10,000 people have massed on the Myanmar side of the frontier.

They have said many people have fled to KIA-held areas as they look to avoid being forced into carrying supplies for the Myanmar military.

Neither the Myanmar official, nor the news report gave numbers of civilians displaced in the fighting.

The newspaper said Myanmar and its Chinese partner, a subsidiary of China Datang Corporation, had "invested heavily" in the dam project.

It added that fighting had caused 215 Chinese workers from the project to be sent back to China.

On Thursday China, one of the Myanmar military's closest allies, urged both sides to "resolve their differences through peaceful negotiations".

The mainly Baptist and Catholic Kachin account for about seven percent of Myanmar's population and an insurgency agitating for greater autonomy gathered momentum from the 1960s until a ceasefire was signed in 1994.

Myanmar -- where power was handed to a nominally civilian government in March after almost 50 years of military rule -- has been plagued by decades of civil war with armed ethnic minority rebels since independence in 1948.

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