Myanmar rebels say 22 recruits dead in army attack

YANGON - Ethnic minority Kachin rebels in the far north of Myanmar said 22 of their troops were killed in an army heavy artillery attack Wednesday, amid foundering efforts to reach a nationwide peace deal.

The barrage also injured 15 when it hit fighters at a training camp near the rebel stronghold town of Laiza, a spokesman for group said, in the largest attack in recent months in a conflict that has uprooted tens of thousands of people and tempered optimism over political reforms.

"It's the biggest loss for us in a single attack, compared with the fighting in recent years," La Nan, of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), told AFP. Myanmar's quasi-civilian government has said negotiating a historic nationwide ceasefire is a central pillar of reforms that have seen the country open to the world since the end of outright military rule in 2011.

But talks to end the country's multiple conflicts in ethnic minority border areas have so far ended in frustration.

The government has inked ceasefires with 14 of the 16 major armed ethnic groups, but deals with the KIA and Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) in eastern Shan state have proved elusive.

The last round of meetings in late September ended without resolution, with fighting ongoing in Kachin and clashes flaring in a number of eastern border regions.

According to the United Nations, some 100,000 people have been displaced in remote, resource-rich Kachin since a 17-year ceasefire between the government and the rebels broke down in June 2011.

Peace negotiator Hla Maung Shwe, at the Yangon-based Myanmar Peace Centre, said he had been informed of the attack and the group had sent information to the government.

"We are trying to reduce this kind of fighting," he said. Another round of ceasefire talks is expected to be held next week, he added.