The Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) has lost an outpost near the Sino-Burmese border, after coming under a fierce attack by the Burmese army on Thursday morning, rebels told DVB on Friday.
SSA-S spokesperson, Major Sai Lao Hseng, said the group was forced to withdraw from their outpost in Nawngma village, Namhkam township, on Thursday afternoon after hundreds of Burmese soldiers descended on their territory.
“After the clash went on for a while, the Burmese army began sending more reinforcements – they had about 500-600 troops, while we only had some ambush units and 100-200 troops scattered around the area,” said Sai Lao Hseng.
Some 2,000 local residents from 19 villages on both sides of the adjacent Ruili River were forced to flee from their homes – with many heading over the Chinese border.
“As we were so outnumbered and a lot of artillery shells were hitting homes in [nearby] villages, our commander decided to withdraw from the area around 3pm in the afternoon,” said Sai Lao Hseng.
The SSA-S has instructed its troops in the area to return to pre-ceasefire conditions and to engage in guerrilla warfare against government forces.
Sai Lao Hseng added that yesterday’s fighting was the biggest escalation in violence, since the group signed a ceasefire agreement with the government in December 2011. But he insisted that the group would try to maintain the ceasefire agreement until the government formally revoked it.
A temple on the Chinese side of the border was reportedly hit by a stray shell, while several Shan houses were damaged, according to Sai Kyaw Ohn, a lower house representative for the Shan Nationalities Democratic Party (SNDP) in Namhkam. He added that the area was left with almost no transportation access on Thursday evening, driving commodity prices through the roof.
According to a report in the Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN), the Chinese army has deployed troops to its border in response to the influx of refugees. They are reportedly still waiting to hear if it is safe for them to return home.
Many displaced also sought shelter in Namhkam town on the Shan side of the border, either staying with relatives or at a local monastery. Sai Kyaw Ohn said the SNDP distributed food to over 100 displaced villagers taking shelter at the Zeyathukha Monastery in Namhkam town on Thursday evening, but that most had begun to return home by Friday morning.
The SSA-S and the Burmese army have reportedly clashed over 50 times since reaching a tentative ceasefire deal in December 2011. But the violence has escalated in the past week, after government troops raided and torched another rebel outpost in Namhkam township, claiming to be searching for four missing Burmese civilians — whom rebels suspect to be military intelligence officers.
The SSA-S is one of Burma’s largest armed ethnic groups, and has been fighting for greater autonomy and ethnic rights in Burma for over half a century.