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Feb 22, 6:15 AM EST

Myanmar rebels deny attack on Red Cross-protected refugees

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Myanmar rebels deny attack on Red Cross-protected refugees

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YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- Kokang ethnic rebels battling Myanmar forces in the country's north denied several government accusations Sunday, including that they attacked a Red Cross-flagged truck that was carrying refugees fleeing fighting in the area.

Kokang spokesman Htun Myat Lin said the report by state media of Saturday's attack was not true, and that his group did not even have forces in the area of the alleged ambush.

The state-run Myanma Ahlin newspaper reported that the rebels used heavy weapons to attack a truck carrying 15 refugees, wounding five people, including a TV cameraman from state-run Myanma Radio and Television and a Myanmar Red Cross volunteer.

The two sides traded similar accusations about an attack Tuesday on a seven-car Myanmar Red Cross convoy carrying 100 people that wounded a driver and another volunteer. The Kokang special region, which lies near the border with China, is difficult to access, and verifying claims by either side is difficult.

"This is the second time the government has spread this kind of propaganda," Htun Myat Lin said by phone.

He also denied accusations made to reporters Saturday by a senior Myanmar military official that other ethnic rebel groups were joining the Kokang in combat against the government.

"They are not supporting us materially nor are they are joining the fight, though they are our close allies," Htun Myat Lin said.

He denied as well an assertion by the military official, Lt. Gen. Mya Tun Oo, that the Kokang rebels were paying former Chinese soldiers to join them and provide military training, saying that China does not support them and that they have no contact with China.

Htun Myat Lin said government forces pounded Kokang outposts Saturday using MIG-29 fighters and Mi-35 attack helicopters, resulting in the burning of several houses and villages.

More than 50 military troops and 70 Kokang rebels have been killed in fighting since Feb. 9, according to the government.

The president of the Myanmar Red Cross, Tha Hla Shwe, said he was "very much disturbed by this second attack on a Red Cross vehicle."

"It is unacceptable that Red Cross volunteers carrying out their humanitarian function are targeted. Even though I don't know who was responsible for the attack, I would like to strongly request all parties not to attack Red Cross personnel and civilians," he said.

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