Kachin rebels in Burma lose key hilltop

Kachin rebels on Hka Ya mountain Kachin rebels were dug in around the Hka Ya hilltop, but have been forced back by government advances

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Ethnic Kachin rebels in northern Burma have been forced to withdraw from a key fortified outpost in their battle with the Burmese army.

The fighters have abandoned Hka Ya hilltop, the last line of defence before the Kachin capital of Laiza, where the rebels are headquartered.

It is not clear whether Burmese forces will now advance on the town.

The Kachin Independence Army has been fighting for greater autonomy against the Burmese forces for 50 years.

The army had been trying to take Hka Ya for more than a week, after the latest ceasefire in the long-running conflict broke down.

Outgunned

The BBC's Jonathan Head, who had just returned from Laiza, says hundreds of Burmese troops have been involved in the attacks, backed by heavy artillery barrages.

He says rebel fighters were heavily outgunned and have now been forced to pull back.

The army advance means government troops are now just 3km away from Laiza, with no more lines of defence in front of them.

Burmese president Thein Sein has previously promised that troops will not take the town, but our correspondent says Kachin people are reluctant to believe him.

Tens of thousands of civilians displaced by the fighting are preparing to flee across the nearby border with China, while the rebel fighter's leadership says it will retreat into the jungle to wage a guerrilla-style war should Laiza fall.

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