Myanmar says Kachin rebels trying to scuttle peace deal

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YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's government has accused ethnic rebels of trying to scuttle a nationwide peace deal, as tensions soar in the northern state of Kachin, where an activist said sporadic clashes between the army and insurgents have trapped more than 1,800 villagers.

Meanwhile, emotions were running high in the state capital, Myitkyina, where a funeral is planned Friday for two ethnic Kachin volunteer teachers, said Tin Soe, an official with the opposition National League for Democracy party. The United States has called on authorities to investigate allegations by activists that the women were raped and killed by army soldiers.

The government has been seeking a nationwide peace pact following more than six decades of armed conflict with ethnic minority groups seeking greater autonomy. More than a dozen armed groups have agreed to sign a cease-fire but insurgents in Kachin and Shan states have so far held out, saying they want the right to self-determination.

Information Minister Ye Htut said the government wants to reach a deal by Feb. 12, the day when a group of ethnic leaders signed an agreement 68 years ago with independence hero Gen. Aung San as part of efforts to break free from their colonial British masters.

He accused members of the Kachin Independence Army of trying to derail those efforts by briefly abducting a state minister earlier this month, detaining three policemen and carrying out several attacks in the jade-mining region that remains largely under their control.

These are "deliberate acts of provocation against the army with the intention to harm the peace negotiations," he said on his Facebook page Monday.

Rebels and civilians in Kachin have blamed the government.

KIA spokesman La Nan said his group is committed to the peace process and accused Myanmar's army of escalating military operations and systematically attacking Kachin outposts since 2013.

While there have been few battles in recent days, Tin Soe said several bombs have gone off at police stations and government offices. He didn't know who set them. It did not appear that anyone was hurt.

He said more than 1,800 people have been trapped for nearly a week in the village of Kansi because of sporadic clashes, a claim denied by Ye Htut.

Tin Soe said more than 100 trucks are on standby to take the civilians to safety, but army checkpoints set up on the road have so far prevented an evacuation. However, three trucks carrying food, each with a Buddhist flag and monk on board, were able to enter the village in recent days, he said.

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