01/16/2015, 00.00
MYANMAR

Kachin: thousands of civilians flee renewed fighting between army and rebels

At least 2,000 people took refuge in churches and monasteries. After a local politician was abducted, the military launched an attack even though he was freed within 24 hours. Witnesses said the military did not wait for his release, but launched a deliberate attack. Peace talks are still at a standstill.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - More than 2,000 villagers in Kachin State, northern Myanmar, on the border with China, have fled their homes because of renewed fighting between the Burmese army and the rebels of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Under mortar fire, residents fled their villages early yesterday morning. Many found refuge in churches and monasteries in the town of Hpakant.

The fighting was sparked by the abduction on Wednesday of a local politician by rebel forces. Although he was released yesterday, the Burmese military used the incident to launch a new attack again the KIA. In doing so, hapless civilians were caught in the crossfire.

Kachin sources claim that they warned the military of the imminent release of Kachin State Transport Minister Kamann Du Naw, but "they didn't wait for his release and attacked us".

Nothing is known of the three police officers who accompanied the minister at the time of the kidnapping.

Although no one has been reported killed or wounded so far, thousands of people had to seek shelter in churches and monasteries.

Despite ongoing attempts at peace talks, "fighting continues on the ground," a witness said.

Myanmar has more than 135 ethnic groups, who have always struggled to live in peace, in particular with the majority Burmese-dominated central government.

In the past, the military junta used an iron fist against the most rebellious minorities, including the Kachin, whose state is located on the border with China.

After 17 years of relative calm, fighting broke out again in Kachin State in June 2011.

Since then, dozens of civilians have been killed and at least 200,000 people have been displaced.

Last August, local bishops made a plea for peace, calling for a lasting solution to the conflict.

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