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Burmese government forces on Sunday retook the town of Mongko in northern Shan State from the ethnic coalition known as the Northern Alliance, according to the Office of the Commander-in-Chief of Defence Services.
In a statement on Monday, the Commander-in-Chief’s office said that rebel forces had on 1 and 3 December carried out attacks in a bid to capture military outposts near the town, but were fended off by artillery strikes and aerial bombing from fighter jets. Tatmadaw [Burmese armed forces] reinforcements, who had subsequently been airlifted into the area, then launched a counter-offensive and successfully took control of Mongko on Sunday afternoon, according to the report.
The news from Mongko coincided with a statement from the Northern Alliance, urging Burma’s military to halt offensives on its positions and withdraw their troops from the region. It also called on the Burmese military to pursue a nationwide ceasefire.
Mongko had been under control of the Northern Alliance – Kachin Independence Army; Ta’ang National Liberation Army; Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army; and Arakan Army – since 25 November; the ethnic militias had launched coordinated surprise attacks on Burmese military and police outposts five days earlier.
Mong Aik Kyaw, a spokesperson for the Alliance, acknowledged that the Burmese army had regained control of Mongko. He said the ethnic troops had withdrawn from the town to avoid civilian casualties as the Tatmadaw had been deploying airstrikes and artillery on a daily basis since the rebels had taken the town on 25 November.
“The Tatmadaw yesterday launched a heavy assault, and we had to withdraw from Mongko,” said Mong Aik Kyaw. “We had no other alternative.”
He added: “We have to consider the civilian population. It appeared that the Tatmadaw would have kept attacking until they had retaken the town. They deployed fighter jets; many residential buildings were destroyed by bombing. That’s why we decided to withdraw from the town–for the sake of the civilian population.”
There have been allegations by the Alliance, as well as from ethnic civil society organisations, that Burmese army units abducted local ethnic civilians, whom they detained at army bases in Mongko as ‘human shields’ in an effort to deter the rebels from launching assaults. The Northern Alliance claimed that its forces on 1-2 December rescued 77 civilian hostages who had been captured by Burmese soldiers.
Meanwhile, the Office of the Commander-in-Chief reported that several servicemen, including one commanding officer, had been killed in Sunday’s successful assault. The Northern Alliance has released no details of casualties.