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Myanmar Ethnic Rebels Deny Attempting to Derail Peace Talks

FILE - Members of various ethnic groups in Burma attend a conference in Laiza at the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Organization, Oct. 30, 2013.

Ethnic rebel groups in northeastern Myanmar say their recent attacks on government forces were a response to military pressure and that they are still interested in peace talks.

Mai Aik Kyaw, a spokesman for the Ta'ang National Liberation Army, said fighting in northern Shan State was continuing Thursday. He said the government has not asked for talks with the four guerrilla groups that began attacks Sunday, but if it does invite them, they are ready to participate.

He said the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi "has never spoken out nor solved any of the problems of the military's offensive fighting and human rights violations. Without proper discussions and negotiations, this fighting will never stop.''

The Kachin Independence Organization, whose fighting forces are also involved, said earlier its guerrillas were countering government army attacks and it didn't seek to derail the comprehensive talks to end decades of fighting between the government and a score of ethnic minority groups.

Talks called by Suu Kyi at the end of August were attended by representatives of 17 of the 20 major ethnic groups, including the Karen, Kachin, Shan and Wa, who together make up 40 percent of the country's population.

But the other groups involved in this week's fighting — the Ta'ang, also known as the Palaung, the Kokang minority's Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, and the Arakan Army, a smaller group allied with the Kachin — did not take part in those talks, which are supposed to build on a "Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement'' that the ethnic groups insist include a political solution to their long-standing demands for greater autonomy.

"If and when they are willing to invite us for negotiation, we are ready to participate,'' said Mai Aik Kyaw. "We didn't have a chance to attend the conference.''

The coalition of four ethnic rebel forces on Sunday attacked military outposts, police stations and a trade center in northern Shan State, which borders China.

"Since the fighting started in the region, nine people have been killed and 29 people are injured and more than 3,000 people have fled to the nearest border town in China,'' Sai Kyaw Tint, a member of the regional parliament, said by phone Thursday.

The remote area is not easily accessible and independent reporting is difficult.

"At a time when people of Myanmar are in the process of striving for national reconciliation, it is extremely disappointing and saddening that these incidents are instigated,'' Suu Kyi said in a statement issued Wednesday.