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Ethnic Kokang rebels declare unilateral ceasefire in area near Myanmar's border with China

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YANGON, Myanmar — Ethnic Kokang rebels fighting against government troops in northeastern Myanmar declared a unilateral ceasefire on Thursday.

Rebel spokesman Htun Myat Lin told The Associated Press the Kokang fighters made the declaration in response to an appeal by China for a peace along the border region and to ensure that elections expected in Myanmar later this year are peaceful in the area.

Clashes between the Kokang rebels and government troops in Myanmar since February have left hundreds dead and forced thousands more people to flee.

China has complained of cross-border firing several times and urged Myanmar to restore stability. A bombing run by a Myanmar plane in March killed five farmers on the Chinese side, leading to an official apology. And earlier this month, Myanmar's army chief blamed the rebels for shells that had fallen in southwestern China.

The clashes have come as the nominally civilian government is making efforts to sign a nationwide cease-fire with more than a dozen rebel groups that have been fighting for self-rule for decades.

The Kokang rebels are of ethnic Chinese descent and have long operated on both sides of the border.

Myanmar's government has accused several other ethnic groups of supporting the Kokang rebels in combat, and has claimed that former Chinese soldiers have provided training. China's government has disavowed any links with the militants, saying it respects Myanmar's sovereignty and will not allow any group to use Chinese territory to destabilize a neighboring country.

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