Seven ethnic Kokang insurgents and an unspecified number of government troops have been killed as Myanmar’s military seized rebel positions in Shan state near the Chinese border, official media said, though rebel sources denied the gains and urged state negotiators to honor a vow to curb clashes.
An offensive launched early this week allowed government troops to gain control of three strategic hill posts located west of Mar Lu village in Shan’s Kokang region that rebels had taken over in the first week of April, a report by the military-owned Myawady newspaper said Wednesday.
The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Kokang army, on Feb. 9 launched a bid to retake the rugged and mountainous Kokang region, a corner of Shan state which it had controlled until 2009, beginning in the Kokang regional capital Laukkai.
After the fighting on Monday and Tuesday “seven bodies of Kokang insurgents were found together with weapons [and] ammunition, while some [government] soldiers were killed and some senior military officers were injured,” the report said.
The Irrawaddy online journal quoted a Ministry of Information radio broadcast on Tuesday night which said that during one of the attacks “our Tatmadaw (military) did not hesitate to pay with their lives, used knives [in hand-to-hand combat], climbed to the mountain post and finally successfully seized the post.”
But local media quoted rebel leaders disputing the military’s claim, saying the MNDAA had not lost the bases and providing differing accounts of casualties.
The MNDAA told the Democratic Voice of Burma that it had lost one soldier with four injured while repelling the military assault, which included attacks by helicopter gunships, and killed around 30 government troops.
Htun Myat Lin, a spokesman for the MNDAA, told the Irrawaddy that the rebel army had lost only one mountain outpost, and described losing the base as a strategic withdrawal.
He told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Wednesday that the military had attacked MNDAA positions with “heavy weapons—not only from the ground, but from the sky.”
“There were about 1,000 troops from government army on the ground,” he added.
Residents on the Chinese side of the mountainous border told RFA earlier this week they watched fierce fighting in nearby Myanmar in which helicopter gunships shelled ground positions and one helicopter was smoking after apparently being hit from the ground.
Local media also reported clashes between the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), which has been fighting alongside the MNDAA, and the military on Sunday in Kokang’s Hsenwi township.
The TNLA said had it carried out a rocket-propelled grenade attack on a military convoy which destroyed four vehicles, killed 20 government troops and injured at least 17.
Fighting between the military and TNLA also took place on Tuesday for more than eight hours southwest of Laukkai in the Konegyan area, reports said, though the TNLA were unable to verify the number of casualties.
Hundreds of soldiers on both sides have been killed in the Kokang conflict, and tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced.
MNDAA officials told the Associated Press last month that about 700 government soldiers had died and 1,500 were wounded since the fighting began in February, while Kokang casualties number 30 dead and more than 60 injured.
Htun Myat Lin told RFA that amid ongoing negotiations for a nationwide cease-fire agreement with around a dozen armed ethnic groups, vice chairman of the government’s Union Peace Working Committee (UPWC) Aung Min had pledged to rein in the military if the MNDAA ended hostilities first.
But he said that while the Kokang army had taken up defensive positions, government troops had not stopped attacking.
“[His promise] is very different from reality—the fighting has been getting stronger after he said this, while we are just on defense,” he said.
“The day the government army stops attacking us with heavy weapons will be the day there is no more fighting in the region.”
Kyaw Ni Naing, an ethnic Kokang lawmaker from Laukkai township, told RFA that the ongoing fighting was creating a dire situation for the region’s civilians, many of whom have fled to camps across the border in China.
“If we want peace in the region and we are thinking in the interest of the people, the government army should reduce its attacks against the MNDAA and the [MNDAA] should lay down its arms and pursue its goals in a democratic way,” he said.
“We now have over 60,000 refugees from the fighting in the region. Civil society groups, including the Red Cross, plan to travel to the various camps to assist them with food and other necessities.”
According to recent interviews by the Shan Human Rights Foundation, Kokang refugees who return home face “killings, beheadings and [forced] disappearance.”
Reported by Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.