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15 June 2009

Myanmar junta dismisses EU concern over ethnic rebels

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Myanmar's ruling junta "categorically rejects" European Union concerns over a growing offensive against Karen rebels which has forced civilians to flee to Thailand, AFP quoted the state media as saying Sunday.

The criticism, which came in a statement by the Czech EU presidency on Thursday, was politically motivated, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper quoted the military regime's foreign ministry as saying.

More than 3,000 people have fled to Thailand to escape the Myanmar army's latest push against camps of the Karen National Union (KNU), a guerrilla group that has fought the government for autonomy since 1949.

The foreign ministry statement said Myanmar was "disappointed with the politically motivated declaration of the EU presidency which was released without a thorough study of Myanmar's insurgency problem".

"Therefore, the ministry categorically rejects the factually incorrect declaration made by the EU presidency relying on inaccurate information originated from the insurgent groups and biased media reports," it said.

Much of the information on the exodus of Karen from eastern Myanmar has come from exiled activists, although the Thai military has confirmed that at least 3,000 have fled to the kingdom.

The EU presidency "noted with serious concern the mounting offensive of the Burmese Army.... which has resulted in large numbers of civilians fleeing from the conflict area", it said in its statement.

It called for an immediate ceasefire and urged the Myanmar military to respect human rights laws.

The Myanmar foreign ministry statement said however that the people fleeing to Thailand were all rebels and their families, not ordinary civilians.

Rights groups have accused the junta of using the offensive as a way to distract from the ongoing trial of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who faces up to five years in jail after an American man swam to her lakeside house.

Myanmar's regime partly justifies its grip on power by claiming the country needs to fend off ethnic rebellions which have plagued remote border areas for decades. The KNU is one of the last groups fighting the authorities.


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