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Myanmar troops attack rebel villages, thousands flee

Written by: Staff

BANGKOK, Apr 26 (Reuters) Myanmar troops have attacked ethnic rebel villages near the Thai border in the biggest government offensive in years, burning homes and forcing thousands to flee, a rebel leader said today.

Government forces began raiding villages in Ton Oo and Yong Lay Phin townships earlier this month, displacing 2,000 civilians so far, Tummala Naw, vice president of the Karen National Union (KNU), told Reuters by telephone.

It was the most serious fighting since the KNU, the biggest rebel group in the former Burma, and the military junta reached an informal ceasefire in 2003, he said.

''Myanmar is playing a two-faced game now. On one hand, they say they want peace talks with us. But on the other hand, they keep attacking us,'' Tummala said.

''This attack obviously means Myanmar does not want peace.'' The military, which has ruled the Southeast Asian nation in various guises since 1962, has previously denied launching major offensives in rebel-held areas.

Aid workers say the latest clashes could be part of a junta effort to establish control over the region since it moved to a new jungle capital about 400 km north of Yangon.

The Free Burma Rangers, a group that says it helps displaced people in Myanmar, said today army operations in western and northern Karen State had forced more than 9,000 people to flee their homes.

''The Burma Army gave orders that they would shoot on sight any villager they found in their old villages after the April 25th deadline to relocate,'' the Rangers said in a statement, citing accounts from displaced villagers.

The Thailand Burma Border Consortium, a non-governmental organisation that tracks refugees from Myanmar, said 1,500 displaced people had arrived in Thailand from northern Karen state since December.

TBBC executive director Jack Dunford said they told stories of increased government troop activity, ''widespread destruction of villages and crops and human rights abuses''.

''TBBC is concerned that reports of large new numbers of new internally displaced could result in many more people crossing into Thailand as refugees in the coming months,'' he said.

After seizing power in 1988 from another set of generals, Myanmar's current military rulers signed ceasefires or peace pacts with around two dozen ethnic guerrilla groups in the country's jungle hinterlands.

Most of the ethnic armies were allowed to keep their weapons, but after former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt was ousted in October 2004, Yangon ordered them to give up their arms -- a move that prompted several rebel groups to unite against the government.


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