Myanmar says clashes with ethnic rebels near Chinese border kill dozens

Clashes between Myanmar troops and ethnic Kokang rebels near the Chinese border have left 47 government soldiers dead and 73 wounded, state media said Friday.

The Global New Light of Myanmar said there have been more than 13 clashes in the last several days between government troops and rebels, with the government carrying out five airstrikes. The number of rebel casualties was not immediately known.

It said the fighting has been serious enough for the government to inform China, which is concerned because the clashes force civilians to flee across the border.

The report said a Kokang renegade group led by former Kokang leader Phone Kya Shin attacked military stations with the objective of capturing Laukai, the capital of the self-administered Kokang zone near the border. The area is more than 800 kilometers (500 miles) northeast of Yangon.

The newspaper quoted local residents as saying that Kokang rebels had infiltrated the area by working in plantations and had carried out attacks using rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns.

The Kokang guerrillas were the main fighting force for the now-defunct Burmese Communist Party until a cease-fire was signed with the then-military government in 1989.

Phone Kya Shin and his commanders fled Myanmar in 2009 after government forces raided a Kokang weapons factory.

Since coming to power in 2011, the government of President Thein Sein has been trying to strike peace agreements with about a dozen ethnic rebel groups that have been fighting for decades for greater autonomy.

It has forged preliminary cease-fire pacts with most, but clashes occasionally occur with Kachin, Shan and other armed groups. The ethnic parties say many questions need to be settled before further pacts are signed.