Ongoing hostilities between Kokang fighters and government forces in Myanmar’s volatile northern Shan state have left six more civilians dead and forced thousands of residents and migrant workers in the town of Laukkai to flee to safety, locals said on Tuesday.
Fighting broke out early Monday when 30 soldiers from the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the formal name of the Kokang army, attacked police and military posts and civilian buildings, leaving about 30 people—police, civilians, and insurgents—dead.
On Tuesday, six people inside casinos in Laukkai died in the fighting, and government soldiers apprehended about 80 casino workers, locals said.
MNDAA soldiers told Agence France-Presse that civilians and some army officers died in clashes around Laukkai, but did not specify numbers.
Myanmar nationals from other parts of the country and Chinese who work in the city close to the border with China have been trying to return home to safety, they said.
About 10,000 workers from middle Myanmar are trying to go back home, but they cannot afford the 10,000-kyat (U.S. $7.30) bus fare and are waiting around on the streets, locals said.
The MNDAA are said to have initiated the assault on government troops and police in retaliation for Myanmar army troops attacking Kokang territory.
Brigadier General Nyo Tun Aung, an Arakan Army (AA) officer who is a spokesman of the Northern Alliance—a coalition of four ethnic armed groups including the MNDAA—told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the ethnic militias will not lay down their arms, but are open to political discussions to resolve their conflicts.
“The government military has been asking us to abandon our weapons for a long time, but we stand firm on resolving political conflicts through political means instead of abandoning our weapons,” he said.
“The government military has been launching offensive attacks on us since last December, and has used heavy weapons many times,” he said.
The MNDAA and government troops engaged in three separate clashes this morning, he said, adding that at about 2 a.m., the [Myanmar] military used heavy weapons and dropped bombs that exploded in China’s territory.
“We ethnic armed groups are not doing anything to harm our ethnic people,” Nyo Tun Aung said. “We always try to stay away from fighting in town and not to affect people, but this time we had to fight back in the town because they attacked us in the town.
“People have had to flee from the town,” he said. “Our group took about 300 workers to a safe place yesterday.”
Fighting to continue
Nyo Tun Aung believes the fighting will continue because the government military added about 50 trucks with troops.
“We ethnic armed groups have to fight back to protect our territories because the government army is making a war of aggression, he said. “We have been fighting off the military government as representatives of the Northern Alliance.”
The MNDAA and other three members of the Northern Alliance—the AA, Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA)—have been fighting Myanmar forces in northern Shan and Kachin states. They carried out coordinated attacks on government and military targets in northern Shan state last November.
Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief’s Office issued a statement on Monday saying that the government military had invited the MNDAA, TNLA, and AA to attend a national-level peace talks this month and participate in political dialogue without signing a nationwide cease-fire agreement (NCA) if they abandoned their weapons.
The Northern Alliance responded in a statement issued Tuesday that it had to defend itself because government troops are using force against the group.
The four ethnic armies did not sign the government’s NCA that was reached with other militias in October 2015.
In the meantime, the Chinese government has called for an immediate cease-fire and restoration of order as thousands flee across the border from Myanmar, raising fears of another exodus like the one that occurred two years ago, AFP reported.
Fighting between ethnic armies and state soldiers in the same area in early 2015 drove tens of thousands of residents to flee, many of whom crossed the border into China, which accused Myanmar of dropping bombs on its territory.
Reported by Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.