Myanmar paper: 31 dead in new clashes with Kachin

A state-run newspaper in Myanmar on Friday said recent battles between government troops and Kachin ethnic rebels had killed 31 people, as the ongoing fighting threatens the country's reform and reconciliation process.

The New Light of Myanmar reported 11 clashes in the last week of April, including what it said was an attack by rebels of the Kachin Independence Army on a government border guard base. It accused the rebel group of trying to seize the base "to save face for its declining military prestige."

It said 29 of the 31 dead were Kachin rebels, while government forces suffered two dead and 15 wounded. A separate report said that the Kachin had blown up parts of three bridges on Wednesday and Thursday.

Spokesmen for the Kachin were not immediately available to comment on the reports, which also claimed that their guerrillas had forced 345 villagers to serve as porters.

The 8,000-strong Kachin militia is one of several minority ethnic rebel armies in Myanmar who say they are fighting for greater autonomy from the central government.

Since taking office last year as a military-backed but elected president, Thein Sein has sought to roll back many of the repressive actions of the military regimes that preceded him.

He has focused on democratization, including reconciliation with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her pro-democracy movement, but has also tackled the long-running problem of ethnic rebellions.

Thein Sein's government has reached cease-fires with several ethnic rebel groups, but peace talks with the Kachin have failed to reach any agreement.

Fighting erupted in Kachin state in June last year for the first time since 1994, when an earlier peace deal had been struck.

The Kachin said the government launched an offensive to drive away its forces after they refused to abandon a strategic base near a hydropower plant that is a joint venture with a Chinese company. The rebels fought back, destroying bridges and power pylons in the area, and as many as 70,000 villagers fled from the fighting.