(AA) – At least 47 government troops have been killed in ferocious clashes with rebels in northeast Myanmar, state media reported Friday.
Seven police officers were also killed and another 73 soldiers wounded when rebels utilized rocket launchers and anti-aircraft guns in a battle against troops and attack helicopters, according to the report in the Global New Light of Myanmar.
The report did not give figures for rebel or civilian casualties.
Fighting erupted in the self-administered region of Kokang near China on Monday, sending civilians fleeing across the border into Yunnan province.
Both sides – government forces and the rebel Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) – accuse each other of provoking this week’s hostilities.
Soldiers from allied rebel militias have been fighting alongside the Kokang rebels, local media reported.
The state media report said there had been more than 13 clashes this week, including five airstrikes against rebels. It added that 200 “renegade” Kokang fighters shelled a military base in Kongyan on Thursday.
As fighting raged Thursday, President Thein Sein sat down to a Union Day dinner with politicians and members of various rebel groups to encourage them to sign a “Deed of Commitment for Peace”, which pledged support for a federal union.
It was the latest in a series of efforts to secure a nationwide peace deal with 17 major rebel groups who have been battling the government for decades.
But only four of the 13 representatives present signed the largely symbolic commitment, which was not legally binding. Others, including Aung Myint of the United Wa State Army, said they would have to discuss with their organizations.
The United Nations Special Advisor on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, hailed the signing as a “historic moment” in a statement Thursday.
“It is the first time that a President of Myanmar has formally signed a commitment to build a democratic and federal union,” he added.
The signing ceremony fell on Union Day, a national holiday that celebrates a 1947 agreement between the government and ethnic groups to form a federal union.
The promise of federalism was swiftly dismantled when a coup in 1962 plunged Myanmar into decades of military rule.