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Myanmar’s military clashes with ethnic militants, 19 killed

Muslim Times(Web Desk) – At least 19 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in a fresh round of fighting between the military and ethnic militants in Myanmar’s troubled northern regions.

An official with Myanmar’s military said on Saturday that two dozen people had been wounded in the skirmishes that broke out outside the town of Muse in Shan State on the road to Lashio.

Government spokesman Zaw Htay said all but four of those killed were civilians, adding that one police officer and three state-backed militia members were killed by “terrorists” who had attacked joint military and militia posts and a casino earlier in the day. Htay rejected the attacks were meant to vindicate ethnic rights.

“It is just a destructive terrorist attack,” said Htay, adding, “The attack to target innocent people is not asking for ethnic rights.”

The Ta’ang National Liberation Army, or TNLA, claimed the attacks that sparked the fighting. It said the attack was a response to the government’s heavy crackdown in Shan as well as in the neighboring state of Kachin.

“We fight because of heavy fighting in our region and the serious offensive in Kachin state,” TNLA spokesman Major Mai Aik Kyaw said. He challenged the government on the number of civilian casualties, saying it was much lower.

“We feel sorry for civilian deaths. We are sorry. But it’s hard to say how they were killed during the fighting,” said Kyaw, adding that he believed some residents had fled over the border to China.

Myanmar’s commander-in-chief said in a post on his page that members of the Kachin Independence Army, or KIA, also contributed to the attack in Shan on Saturday. The commander said military columns were in pursuit of the “terrorist insurgents.”

The Buddhist-dominated Myanmar has an ill reputation of hardly tolerating a patchwork of ethnic groups that form a third of its population. The military and Buddhist mobs launched a massive crackdown last August in the western state of Rakhine, home to the Muslim Rohingya community. More than 700,000 Muslims left their homes and fled to neighboring Bangladesh in what the United Nations labeled as a textbook example of “ethnic cleansing.”

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