LASHIO, Shan State — Some 4,500 residents and migrant workers from the Kokang region in northern Shan State have fled south to Lashio to escape ongoing, fierce fighting between the Burma army and Kokang ethnic rebels, a head of a Buddhist monastery in Lashio said. Sayadaw Bhaddanta Ponnya Nanda from Masu Shan Monastery in Lashio told Irrawaddy reporters on Monday that more than 4,500 civilians have fled and taken shelter in his monastery and a public high school since clashes broke out on Feb. 9. Some 1,700 migrant workers from central Burma, who work in the Kokang Special Region as day laborers in farming or construction, were among the displaced. Some 1,000 family members of Burma Army troops and policemen stationed in Laukkai Township also fled to Lashio, located some 160 km (about 100 miles) south. Hundreds more civilians are trying to head south but are believed to be trapped between the fighting parties. [irrawaddy_gallery] Sanda Yu Lwin, the wife of a police officer from Toncheng Police Station in Laukkai Township, said the families had been worried about their safety during the journey. “We were at first to come in a convoy. But it leaked out through the internet and we were concerned for our safety. The wives of policemen were with many children and we came in trucks bearing the logos of the [Burmese] Red Cross,” she said. Commander-in-Chief Snr-Gen Ming Aung Hlaung on Sunday visited Pyin Oo Lwin and Lashio, together with his wife and members of the top brass, to talk to wounded soldiers and displaced families. State-owned media reported in a front page article that the commander presented 10 million kyats (about US$10,000) and 100 bags of rice and food donated by the army to the displaced. Government departments, political parties and civil society organizations are reportedly also helping the displaced through donations in cash and in kind. Heavy fighting between the Burma Army and the rebels, also known as the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), has raged since last week, with reports of dozens of casualties on both sides. Battles are continuing over the control of Laukkai, the region’s largest town. Tens of thousands of ethnic Kokang residents and Chinese businessmen have fled the town and surrounding areas and are seeking shelter across the border in China’s Yunnan Province. Exact figures on how many crossed the border have not been released by Chinese authorities.
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