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    Saturday, 12 May 2018

    19 dead in fighting between Myanmar army, rebels: military

    At least 19 people have been killed in clashes between Myanmar's military and an ethnic armed group on Saturday in northern Shan State, Myanmar army and local sources told AFP, the most deadly flare-up in recent years as fighting in the borderlands intensifies.

    Rights defenders say clashes in northern Myanmar near the China border have ramped up since January as the international community focuses on the Rohingya crisis in the west of the country.
    The military stands accused of carrying out an ethnic cleansing campaign against the stateless minority in Rakhine.
    Saturday's violence was between the military and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army, or TNLA, one of several insurgent groups fighting for more autonomy in the north.
    "Nineteen [people] were killed in fighting," the Myanmar military source said, adding that two dozen had been injured.
    Thaung Tun, a local NGO leader who helped carry the injured to the hospital, said the dead included one police officer, one rebel fighter, four members of a state-backed militia, and two women civilians.
    Pictures of burned out vehicles and armed men running for cover spread quickly on social media.
    TNLA spokesman Major Mai Aik Kyaw told AFP that the group attacked joint military and militia posts in the Shan state town of Muse and on a road to Lashio.
    "We fight because of thorough fighting in our region and the serious offensive in Kachin State," he said, referring to fresh confrontations in Myanmar's northernmost state between the army and the TNLA-aligned Kachin Independence Army.
    Upwards of 90,000 people reside in IDP camps in Kachin and Shan states since a ceasefire between the powerful Kachin Independence Army and the military broke down in 2011.
    Those fleeing violence have sheltered in tents and even churches in Kachin, which is mainly Christian, as rights groups accuse the military of blocking aid.
    Myanmar's patchwork of ethnic groups make up round a third of the population, but the Bamar or Burmese have filled the Buddhist-majority country's power structures since independence in 1948.
    Civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi said ending Myanmar's long-running conflicts was her main priority after she took power in 2016, but she shares power with the military that fought the insurgencies for decades.
    Suu Kyi managed to bring two ethnic groups into a ceasefire accord in February, adding to eight others who had inked the deal before she took office.Thousands of people have been displaced in the country’s northern-most state of Kachin since April amid renewed fighting between the army and ethnic insurgents.
    Saturday’s violence was between the military and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, or TNLA, one of several insurgent groups fighting for more autonomy in the north.
    “Fighting took place since 5am this morning at three places: two military bases in Muse and one near a bridge on the way to Lashio town,” TNLA spokesman Maj Mai Aik Kyaw said, citing two of the towns in northern Shan where the clashes occurred.… we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading the Guardian than ever but advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. And unlike many news organisations, we haven’t put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as open as we can. So you can see why we need to ask for your help. The Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe our perspective matters – because it might well be your perspective, too.

    ‘We are not dead and we are not alive’

    In recent months, the group has been accused by the government of murdering scores of Rohingya leaders suspected of informing to the authorities or opposing the violent struggle, and kidnapping others. The Guardian has seen video of masked men making death threats in the name of the group.
    Another video shows a teenage boy being threatened with a long knife by men identified as being part of the armed group.
    While Myanmar authorities portray them as Islamist radicals, there is little evidence that religion has served as a motivating factor for recruits.
    But the campaign has had religious overtones. The Crisis Group report, which was based on interviews with members of the group as well as sources in the area and the diaspora, found Islamic clerics had blessed training camps and issued fatwas legitimising the group.
    “Indonesian and Malaysian extremists have been chomping at the bit to go help their brothers in Myanmar,” says Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict.
    “Decades of persecution have led to this,” says Matthew Smith, CEO and founder of Fortify Rights.
    For years, Rohingya have told human rights advocates and journalists that their lives, confined to villages and displacement camps, are not worth living.
    “Now we are not dead and we are not alive, so we need to do something,” says Hashem. “We want our rights. If it is not happening, either we die or they die.”
    Additional reporting by Cape Win Diamond 
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