Intense fighting between Myanmar government troops and rebel forces in the northern Shan State region of Kokang in recent days has left more than 100 people dead, the majority of them on the government side, local sources told RFA on Thursday.
Fighting intensified on three fronts around the Kokang regional capital Laukkai, currently held by the army, since Sunday, local residents said.
"I heard the shelling start up this morning after breakfast, and it hasn't stopped since," a Kokang resident, who declined to be named, told RFA.
"Every five or 10 minutes, a shell sounds, continually now, in the direction of Dongshantou," the resident said.
Online reports said the government has been using heavy artillery in the Koutangshan district of Kokang, in the fiercest assault on the rebel Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) since it launched its bid on Feb. 9 to retake the Kokang self-administered zone that it had controlled until 2009.
The assault has also cost the Myanmar army heavily in terms of casualties as they try to assault rebel positions in the rugged and mountainous region close to the Chinese border.
"More than 70 Myanmar government soldiers died when the Myanmar army attacked the rebel forces," a second local resident told RFA.
"It was from an attack the army launched on a rebel position that was easy to defend and hard to storm," he said, adding: "I had friends there, and they told me about it."
"The people who live in Kunlong city saw it with their own eyes."
Separately, allied forces clearing up after a battle at Koutangshan said they had counted some 40 bodies of government soldiers.
Photos of the scene obtained by RFA showed dead bodies in military uniform, some with missing limbs, or in parts.
The casualties came after a battle between some 1,250 government troops massed at five locations near Koutangshan.
The rebel stronghold was manned by around 440 fighters, none of whom have access to heavy weaponry or air cover.
According to the official Global New Light of Myanmar, government troops on Wednesday drove away six groups of Kokang rebels that had attempted to attack Laukkai.
The report said the military, supported by air strikes, captured five hilltops along the Kokang rebel defense line on Wednesday, "forcing the insurgents to withdraw to the east of the region."
During the operation, government troops seized a variety of drugs, as well as the bodies of three rebels and small arms, it said, adding that a total of 13 military officers and other ranks were killed in the fighting and 28 others were injured.
MNDAA spokesman Tun Myat Linn confirmed to RFA's Myanmar Service that fighting occurred "throughout the day" on Wednesday, with the military deploying four fighter jets and two helicopters for support.
"What we have heard is that many homes and buildings were destroyed by bombs dropped by government planes," he said.
The first Kokang resident said China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) was maintaining its show of force along the border between Kokang and its southwestern province of Yunnan following the deaths of five Chinese citizens in a bombing incursion into Chinese territory last week.
"There are Chinese helicopters patrolling the area," he said, in a reference to frequent PLA sorties following the cross-border attack on March 14 that prompted a military build-up in Yunnan and stern warnings from Beijing.
Myanmar's government has offered to pay 70,000 yuan (U.S. $11,300) for each victim of the bombing, compared with just 20,000 yuan (U.S. $3,230) a head paid to similar accidental victims inside its own borders, local sources said.
The offer sparked a furious backlash among China's Internet users, who amid a climate of anti-Myanmar feeling, slammed the offer as far too low.
One of the victims' relatives, who asked to remain anonymous, said they wouldn't accept the offer.
"People don't agree with this; we spoke to the family, and they said definitely not," the relative said.
"We hope the government will help us to get justice, and better treatment, so that they can address the issue of their future livelihoods," he said.
A social media commentator nicknamed Wang Ye said they were surprised to hear about the compensation offer, given that Myanmar had refused to admit that it dropped the bombs.
"Don't tell me the Myanmar government intends this as a friendly gesture, to pick up the bill for the rebel alliance," the user wrote.
Meanwhile, social media user Feng Hua said the amount was too low.
"Can 70,000 yuan pay for a human life? It should be at least two million yuan (U.S. $322,800) per person."
But Kokang residents said 70,000 yuan seemed like an enormous sum from their side of the border.
"It's not bad, actually," a third Kokang resident told RFA. "We wouldn't get that amount of compensation here in Kokang."
"In Myanmar, if you get killed, you get killed."
Myanmar president’s office spokesman Ye Htut said he was unable to comment on the source of the bombs that fell on the Chinese side of the border without seeing the sites himself.
“Weapon experts from our military went there and took bomb fragments from the fighting area, but the examination is still ongoing,” he said.
Ye Htut denied that Myanmar had offered compensation to the families of Chinese citizens killed in the bombing.
“I asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs [on Wednesday] about the news of compensation being offered for killed Chinese citizens and the ministry said they hadn’t made any agreement about it,” he said.
“Myanmar doesn’t intend to wage a war of aggression against China or any other country … China and Myanmar are working together to determine what happened, as our relationship remains very good.”
He said the government was working to return refugees who have fled the clashes to their homes as soon as stability returns to the region.
Tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced or made homeless by the fighting in Kokang, with many of the ethnic Chinese minority fleeing across the border, when permitted to do so by Chinese border guards.
At their peak, the number of refugees streaming into China was estimated at 100,000, although many appear to have returned to Myanmar after being pressured to do so by dwindling supplies and border restrictions.
China has on occasion closed sections of the border and refugees without their own financial resources now find it hard to enter Chinese territory.
"There are more than 2,000 people here right now," a volunteer aid worker surnamed Zhao at a refugee camp on the Myanmar side near the No. 125 border post told RFA on Thursday.
"Those who have the money have all gone to Nansan, in China."
He said an eight-year-old Kokang girl seriously injured in a shell blast in a crowded marketplace earlier this month is now on the road to recovery at a hospital in Nansan, after losing two brothers in the blast.
"She has woken up from her coma and is able to play now," Zhao said. "But she still needs further surgery to her head, because there is shrapnel inside."
"It has cost more than 20,000 yuan [for her treatment] so far."
Supplies and medical treatment for refugees is largely being financed in China by the Chinese Red Cross, but services on the Myanmar side are dependent on donations.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Pyone Moh Moh Zin and Khin Khin Ei for the Myanmar Service. Translated by Luisetta Mudie and Khet Mar. Written in English by Luisetta Mudie and Joshua Lipes.