08/27/2009, 00.00
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Thousands of civilians flee conflict between Burmese army and Shan rebels

Witnesses describe a "mass exodus". The refugees accommodated in camps set up by the Chinese government in Nansas, a town near the border between Myanmar and China. The Burmese army launched an offensive to force the rebels to surrender;, the government wants them to cooperate in the defence of national borders.

Yangon (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Thousands of civilians have crossed the border between Myanmar and China, to escape an ongoing conflict between the Burmese army and rebel groups of the ethnic Shan. Chinese media speak of 10 thousand people since the beginning of August, local sources are describing "a mass exodus." Hundreds of Government troops, meanwhile, have reached the area to eradicate the resistance.

The military junta in power in Myanmar - the nation consists of majority Burmese and many ethnic minorities - has launched an offensive to quash ethnic rebels; the military means to force them to surrender in view of the 2010 general elections and to compel them to cooperate with the government in defence of national borders. 

An eyewitness in the Chinese town of Nansan reports that "a large group of refugees" crossed the border on August 25, through the Burmese town of Kokang, in Shan. A second source says that he has seen "nothing like that in at least 10 years"; the refugees are  currently housed in centres set up by the Chinese government.


Meanwhile, the Myanmar Peace and Democracy Front (Mpdf), an alliance formed by four rebel ethnic groups, has confirmed a "military confrontation" between the Burmese army and Mpdf. The tension, they say, is "very high". The clashes occurred on  August 8 and were triggered by the " military threat instigated by the government", which has used the pretext of combating drug trafficking "to crush the rebels resistance”.  

The ongoing battle has caused "shock and frustration" throughout the region and along the border. The rebels add that the fight "casts a dark shadow" on the possibility of relations and dialogue between the ethnic groups and the Burmese government.

The internal struggle of the Burmese ethnic minorities is a problem that has dragged on for decades. Only Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the opposition party National League for Democracy (NLD), has managed to unite all the people of Myanmar in common cause, by winning at the polls in the last democratic elections in 1990.  

Among the most active in the fight against the government - which has never recognized the outcome of the polls, by imposing a strict military dictatorship - are the rebels of the Karen National Union (KNU), who have never signed a peace agreement. The conflict between the KNU and the military government has lasted for over 60 years and is one of the oldest in the world still in progress.

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