Myanmar’s military has resumed air strikes against ethnic Kokang rebels in the country’s remote Shan state a week after a bomb fell across the border in China, killing five Chinese nationals and straining relations between the two neighboring nations.
The military had appeared to halt its air offensive against the rebel Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) amid stern words from Beijing and China’s decision to scramble fighter jets along the border in the aftermath of the March 14 bombing incursion.
But according to a report in the official Global New Light of Myanmar, intense fighting on Thursday between government troops and the MNDAA—which is trying to retake the Kokang self-administered zone it had controlled until 2009—required military support from the sky.
“Fierce fighting broke out Thursday between the Myanmar Army and Kokang insurgents for control of a hilly zone in the Laukkai region, with government forces seizing the strategically important point,” the report said.
“The Myanmar Air Force also attacked insurgents, taking a stronghold near villages to the north of Kongyan town.”
The report said that one military soldier had been killed and 30 others wounded in the fighting, but gave no mention of rebel casualties.
The Irrawaddy online journal quoted MNDAA spokesman Tun Myat Linn as saying that the military had deployed four jet fighters and two helicopters in the engagement.
“We had major fighting yesterday and fighting it broke out today at the same place, and they fired on us with their jet fighters,” he said.
Around 10 MNDAA soldiers were wounded in Thursday’s fighting, but no one was killed, he added.
Last week’s bombing incident brought relations between Beijing and Naypyidaw to their lowest point in years, with China demanding that those responsible be brought to justice. Myanmar claims that the MNDAA launched the attack to complicate the situation on the border.
Throughout this week, fighting has continued “day and night” and shows no signs of letting up, a Kokang resident told RFA’s Mandarin Service Friday.
“Myanmar government troops are looking for water sources and trying to cut them off in an attempt to weaken the rebels’ combat capability,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Kokang residents have to flee to Nansan [across the border in China] to find jobs.”
Since fighting in the area first broke out on Feb. 9, scores of soldiers have been killed on both sides of the conflict, while tens of thousands of refugees have been displaced to camps on either side of the border.
A volunteer surnamed Li, who is based at a refugee camp in Myanmar, said aid workers were actively searching for a place to relocate camp residents ahead of the coming rainy season.
“Our refugee camp now houses 2,300 people and we are currently looking for higher ground to resettle these refugees because we are concerned that the camp could be hit by a flood when the rainy season begins,” Li said.
“There are many children and elderly people in the refugee camp and flood water is too dangerous for them—that’s why we’re looking for a new camp location.”
According to Li, 3,000 refugees who have recently settled at a camp on the Chinese side now have access to food provided by the government, though crowded conditions require that as many as 10 refugees live in one tent and, in many cases, different families must share the same living quarters.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated by Feng Xiaoming. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.