Thousands flee as ethnic groups clash in Myanmar

YANGON • More than 3,000 people have fled their homes in northern Myanmar following clashes between two ethnic rebel groups, the United Nations said yesterday, raising fears that the government's fragile peace efforts could be fracturing.

Heavy fighting in the northern state of Shan broke out last week between the Restoration Council for Shan State (RCSS) and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA).

It is a rare instance of the ethnic groups turning on each other and comes during a transition from an army-backed government to Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's pro-democracy party.

"We are receiving reports that more than 3,000 people have been displaced in the past week," said Mr Mark Cutts, country head of the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Kyaukme's Lower House MP Sai Tun Aung said locals have told him of teachers and students fleeing on foot to escape arrests, killings and arson attacks being carried out by "an armed group moving around the region". He did not say which rebel group was responsible.

The government has tried to end decades-long civil wars between the military and ethnic armed groups seeking greater autonomy.

The outgoing government signed a peace deal with several groups, including the RCSS, late last year. But its efforts to sign a nationwide peace deal foundered after the government baulked at including several groups locked in ongoing conflict with the military, including the TNLA. It is unclear what sparked the recent fighting between RCSS and TNLA.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2016, with the headline 'Thousands flee as ethnic groups clash in Myanmar'. Print Edition | Subscribe