Sept 1, 2009 (DVB), The United States has expressed concern over recent fighting between the Burmese army and ethnic rebel groups, and its potential impact on chances for national reconciliation in Burma.
Fighting between Burmese troops and armed ethnic groups in Burma's northeastern Shan state appeared to have eased yesterday, with thousands of refugees making their way back from China.
Estimates of up to 37,000 people were thought to have fled into China since fighting broke out on 27 August, principally against the Myanmar Peace and Democracy Front (MPDF), based in Shan state's Kokang region.
"The brutal fighting has forced thousands of civilians to flee their homes for safety in Thailand and China, and has reduced both stability and the prospects for national reconciliation in Burma," said US State Department spokesperson Ian Kelly.
"We urge the Burmese authorities to cease their military campaign and develop a genuine dialogue with the ethnic minority groups as well as with Burma's democratic opposition."
The latest wave of fighting appears to have broken a 20-year ceasefire agreement between the Burmese junta and the Kokang army, who have received some support from other ceasefire groups such as the United Wa State Army (UWSA).
Burmese state media on Monday said that around 30 people, including Burmese troops, had been killed since fighting broke out.
China, a close ally of Burma, last week issued a rare rebuke to the Burmese government, urging it to "properly deal with its domestic issue to safeguard the regional stability in the China-Myanmar [Burma] border area".
Both the Wa and Kokang groups are made up of ethnic Chinese, and China is thought to covertly support the groups.
Chinese authorities were sheltering refugees as they crossed into its southern Yunnan province, and providing food and water. United Nations officials were also reportedly on hand to assist.
According to Reuters, around two-thirds of the refugees had by today returned to Burma, many fearing looting of their homes and shops.
The fighting was sparked by growing pressure from the junta on ceasefire groups to transform themselves into border patrol militias, as well as form political parties prior to the 2010 elections.
junta on ceasefire groups to transform themselves into border patrol militias, as well as form political parties prior to the 2010 elections.
Reporting by Francis Wade