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Myanmar politician warns of Arab spring

June 24, 2011 at 12:15 PM   |   Comments


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YANGON, Myanmar, June 24 (UPI) -- As bombs rocked three Myanmar cities, a member of Parliament warned against the country slipping into an "Arab spring."

The people of Myanmar should work together to prevent the same uprising as beset north African countries that could damage the interests of the nation, Shwe Mann, speaker of the Lower House of Myanmar's Parliament, said.

"As U.S. Senator John McCain said when he visited Burma, we have to make sure that the kind of unrest that has happened in the Middle East doesn't happen here," Mann told members of Yangon's regional assembly.

Mann praised the efforts of another member of Parliament, Thein Zaw, to end the fighting between government troops and ethnic rebels in the northern Kachin State that erupted in early June, a report by the Norway-based independent news Web site Democratic Voice of Burma said.

Fighting broke out June 9 near Bhamo, around 40 miles from the Chinese border, between the Kachin Independence Army and government troops. The clashes marked the end a 15-year cease-fire between the KIA and the Myanmar central government.

Unconfirmed reports said at least four rebels and a number of government troops died. Religious groups, including Christian churches, in the town of Laiza in the mountainous Kachin state bordering China are caring for the refugees.

Clashes between government troops and KIA are one of several ethnic conflicts that the central government -- mostly a military one -- has been trying to keep under control since early the 1960s. Other states, in particular Shan and Karen, also have rebel groups that periodically clash with government troops.

Mann's warning comes after three bombs exploded nearly simultaneously in three cities yesterday. No deaths have been reported in the blasts that occurred in the capital Naypyitaw, Mandalay -- Myanmar's second largest city -- and the garrison town of Pyin Oo Lwin.

However, the explosions have not been officially acknowledged by the government, ostensibly a civilian administration after elections in November, although it is led by former junta officers who resigned their commissions to run as civilians.

The blast in Naypyitaw happened near a market and several new hotels. In Mandalay, the explosions destroyed a parked car and wounded two people, including a traffic policeman, a government official told media on condition of anonymity.

He gave no details of the explosion in Pyin Oo Lwin.

No group has claimed responsibility for the bombs, but the government has blamed similar explosions in the past on ethnic rebels.

A train attack near the capital in May killed two people and injured nine others.

In April, eight people died and 170 were injured in a series of three bomb blasts in Yangon during an outdoor water festival. The government mouthpiece New Light of Myanmar Web site described the bombs as "merely intended to tarnish Myanmar's traditional culture and insult the public."

Earlier this week, the KIA warned its troops in Kachin state to expect protracted fighting.

The government blamed the escalation in fighting on the KIA for entering the Tarpein hydroelectric dam, a joint China and Myanmar project, and seizing ammunition from security guards.

Troops were moved into the area to protect civilians and the dam, a New Light report said.

However, the KIA said fighting is a result of the breakdown of talks aimed at having KIA members join the central government's Border Guard Force, made up mainly of former rebel forces. The KIA refuses to join the BGF.

The government's policy of maintaining the BGF has been a relatively successful tactic between it and insurgents in several sensitive border areas, mainly in Kachin, in Shan state directly to the south and in Karen state, further south and which borders Thailand.

© 2011 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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