Myanmar president vows won’t ‘lose an inch’ to rebels

- Attack on Red Cross convoy leaves 2 wounded as China says over 30,000 refugees cross border.

By Joshua Carroll

YANGON, Myanmar (AA) - Myanmar’s president has vowed “not to lose an inch” of territory to ethnic rebels as fighting that has forced tens of thousands from their homes continues to rage near the border with China.

President Thein Sein was speaking during a visit to soldiers wounded in the clashes, state media reported Tuesday.

He told troops at the Pyin Oo Lwin military hospital they were “protecting sovereignty and ensuring territorial integrity,” the Global New Light of Myanmar report said.

At least 47 government troops and 26 rebels have died in fighting that broke out in Kokang region in northern Shan state early last week.

The Myanmar army has used attack helicopters against soldiers from the National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and its allies from other rebel groups.

Figures for civilian casualties are unknown, but a spokesperson for the Ta’ang National Liberation Army -- an MNDAA ally -- told the Irrawaddy website Monday that his frontline sources reported 50 civilian deaths.

Laukkai, the capital of Kokang, has reportedly been deserted, with local media saying that shops and homes had been looted and burned.

A migrant worker from Laukkai told the Irrawaddy on Monday that troops warned residents to leave because they were in danger.

“Laukkai is almost empty,” Thein Hteik said.

A Red Cross convoy transporting civilians from Laukkai came under attack from unknown assailants Tuesday.

Two people were shot and wounded in the incident, which marked the first time the aid group was targeted in Myanmar. 

More than 30,000 refugees have crossed the border into China to flee the fighting in Kokang, China’s Xinhua news agency said.

"Residents from Myanmar have crossed into China more than 30,000 times since Feb. 9," according to a statement issued by Lincang city authority in China’s Yunnan province.

The statement added: "The overall situation on the China-Myanmar border is stable. We hope the conflicting parties in Myanmar will settle their disputes by peaceful means and avoid disrupting the border region.”

The Foreign Ministry said Monday that China would continue to promote peace in Myanmar.

The violence has dampened hopes of a nationwide peace deal, which was billed by Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government as a cornerstone of the country’s political reform process.

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