Dozens of Burmese soldiers have been killed in several clashes between ethnic rebels and the army in Kokang along the border with China, state media reported on Tuesday, threatening leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s chief goal of ending decades of ethnic strife.
More than 20,000 people from Burma have crossed China’s border in recent weeks to escape the bitter fighting in the north, prompting Beijing to call for ceasefire between ethnic militias and Burmese security forces.
“There were at least 48 armed clashes with the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army [MNDAA], resulting in the deaths of dozens of soldiers,” Burma’s state-run English daily, the Global New Light of Myanmar, said.
It did not give exact numbers of soldiers killed in what it described as area clearance operations by government troops running from 6-12 March.
Last week, the government said five residents and five traffic policemen had been killed and 20 dead bodies discovered after the MNDAA’s 6 March initial assault on Laogai, the capital of the northeastern Kokang region.
“Scores of citizens” were injured in the attacks, the paper added.
Suu Kyi, who swept to power in 2015 on promises of national reconciliation, has been struggling to give fresh impetus to Burma’s stuttering peace process, as ethnic representatives accuse her of siding with the military.
About 270 staff of a hotel in Laogai were “abducted” by the MNDAA on 6 March and taken to the neighbouring Chinese town of Nansan for forced military training, the paper said.
However, the MNDAA said on its website that the group had safely escorted the hotel staff to Nansan in a move the workers “supported and acclaimed.”
The area was now in a “state of war” as fighting worsened, the group said in an “urgent notice” posted on the website on Sunday.
The MNDAA is a part of the Northern Alliance — a coalition of rebel groups comprising one of Burma’s most powerful militias, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and two other smaller groups that have been in a stand-off with the Burmese military since clashes in the Kokang area in 2015.
Many died and tens of thousands fled the region during that fighting, which also spilled over into Chinese territory and resulted in the death of five Chinese people, angering Beijing.