Seven soldiers from Myanmar’s military were killed and 20 others wounded in an attack by ethnic rebels on an army outpost in the country’s remote northeastern border region, state media said Monday.
Reports quoted the state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar as saying that ethnic Kokang rebels launched the “unprovoked” attack on Dec. 10, despite ongoing talks between government and rebel negotiators for a nationwide cease-fire agreement.
A report by the state-run Myanma Ahlin daily said the heavily armed rebels attacked the army camp, located near Kunlong, around 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the Chinese border, and laid siege to it for two days.
Ethnic Kokang are primarily based in northern Shan state and the minority group maintains a rebel army of around 3,000 troops known as the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).
The MNDAA signed a peace deal with the government in 1989, but the group clashed with Myanmar’s military in 2009, causing tens of thousands of refugees to flee into southwestern China.
It is also allied with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA)—Myanmar’s last remaining major ethnic armed groups that have not secured bilateral cease-fires with Naypyidaw since President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government took power from the former military regime in 2011.
The Irrawaddy online journal quoted TNLA spokesman Colonel Tar Aik Kyaw as saying that a combined force of allied troops did engage in combat with the government last week, but that the conflict occurred about 100 kilometers (62 miles) west of the location cited in state media.
He said there had been an increase of government troops in rebel-held Tamoenye and Kutkai townships, resulting in clashes on Dec. 10 and 13.
“There was no ambush by our allied troops, apart from the fighting in those townships,” Tar Aik Kyaw told The Irrawaddy.
Talks by Christmas
Efforts to sign a nationwide cease-fire by negotiators from the government’s Union Peace Working Committee (UPWC) and the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), which represents more than a dozen armed ethnic rebel groups, have stalled since a meeting in September produced no agreement.
Rebel groups have called for greater autonomy under a federal system, but the military is pushing for a strong centralized government in Myanmar, based on the country’s 2008 junta-backed constitution.
On Monday, representatives from the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) in the commercial center Yangon and the NCCT said that they had agreed to resume nationwide cease-fire talks before Christmas.
“[UPWC leader] Minister Aung Min planned to invite the NCCT to hold a meeting on Dec. 18 or 19, but the NCCT has only agreed with us to hold it before Christmas,” MPC representative Hla Maung Shwe told RFA.
“We have to discuss the exact date,” he said.
Khun Okkar, a senior member of the NCCT, said that the government had not fully explained recent clashes with rebel armies, including a mortar attack on a KIA training camp in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state which injured more than a dozen cadets and killed 23.
Most of the cadets belonged to rebel groups allied to the KIA, such as the TNLA and the Arakan Army.
“Minister Aung Min answered our questions … as much as he could, but his answers were insufficient and we want more of an explanation,” he said.
“We will ask him further questions during our upcoming talk so that we can discuss everything we need to [about the nationwide cease-fire].”
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.