Hundreds flee as rebels clash with Myanmar army

- Fighting in Kachin state forces villagers to seek shelter.

By Joshua Carroll

YANGON, Myanmar (AA) – Hundreds of villagers in northern Myanmar have fled their homes amid intense fighting between the army and ethnic rebels, local media reported Friday.

Activists said people had taken shelter in churches and monasteries after troops exchanged shell and gunfire in the jade-rich region of Hpakant early on Thursday.

The fighting broke out after rebels from the Kachin Independence Army briefly detained the state’s transport minister, Kamann Du Naw, on Wednesday.

Four people were also injured on Thursday when an unknown assailant on a motorcycle lobbed a bomb at a police station in Hpakant, the Irrawaddy news website reported.

It is still unclear if that attack was directly related to the nearby clashes.

Tensions have been especially high since an army mortar attack killed 23 people at a rebel training camp in November. The army claims it hit the camp by mistake and had intended to fire warning shots.

It is the latest in a series of flare-ups that have rocked Kachin state, forcing more than 100,000 into displacement camps, since a 17-year cease-fire broke down in 2011.

Myanmar’s government, staffed by ex-generals from the former military junta, has pledged to secure a nationwide cease-fire deal with more than a dozen ethnic rebel groups before a general election at the end of the year.

But repeated eruptions in fighting in restive border regions and stalemate at the negotiating table have raised grave doubts about President Thein Sein’s ability to fulfill his pledge.

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