Myanmar rebels suffer 'heavy losses': State media

YANGON - Dozens of ethnic minority rebels and two government troops have been killed in clashes in northern Myanmar, state media said on Friday, as fighting rages despite international calls for a ceasefire.

The New Light of Myanmar government mouthpiece said 29 members of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) had died since April 27, while two government soldiers were killed and 12 wounded. Three officials were also reportedly hurt.

A KIA spokesman was unable to immediately confirm or deny the information.

The New Light blamed the rebels for a raid on a military post on the border with China on April 27, prompting a counter-attack by government troops which it said had inflicted 'heavy losses' on the KIA side.

'The military columns are in hot pursuit of fleeing members of the armed group,' it said.

One KIA soldier has been captured alive while 'mountains' of weapons and ammunition have been seized, according to the report.

It accused the rebels of forcing 345 villagers to work for them as porters.

On Thursday the KIA told AFP they feared a major assault by the military on the northern town of Laiza because about 2,000 government forces had moved into place around the rebel stronghold.

The apparent troop build-up follows calls by visiting United Nations chief Ban Ki Moon on Monday for an end to fighting, which has displaced tens of thousands of civilians.

The rebels say their own forces in Laiza number about 3,000.

The government has agreed ceasefires with several other ethnic rebel groups as part of reforms since coming to power last year, raising hopes of an end to civil war that has gripped parts of Myanmar since independence in 1948.

But a series of meetings with the rebels fighting in Kachin, where a 17-year ceasefire was shattered last year, have failed to end the violence there.

Usually state media offers little information on army operations in the area, but the New Light has reported a string of alleged KIA attacks in recent days, some wounding civilians.

The Kachins deny the allegations.

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