Burmese government forces captured crucial Kokang rebel positions along the Laogai-Konkyan Road on the evening of 21 February with the aid of air support, according to a report by military-owned Myawady news.
A spokesman for the Kokang rebel group Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) has countered that although rebel forces have retreated, they have claimed higher casualty rates on the battlefield.
The Myawady reported that Burmese army columns captured “strategically important positions” held by Kokang rebels on hills along the roadside towards Konkyan, which lies in the Kokang Special Region some 35 kilometres northwest of the main town of Laogai [also written Laukkai].
Government forces also claim to have secured positions along the Laogai-Tashwehtan road, at an area known as 18-mile junction, and in the town of Nyankhwang, allowing for the the resumption of government-aligned transportation in those areas.
The military newspaper said that four government troops were killed in action, with 21 injured, in five clashes throughout Saturday. It also reported that the Kokang lost three soldiers.
Tun Myat Linn, a spokesperson for the MNDAA, told DVB that casualties on the Burmese army side were much higher than they were reporting.
“On Saturday, government forces began shelling our positions early in the morning. Then at about 11am we were hit by airstrikes by two jets and two helicopter gunships,” he said. “Then their infantry units tried to overrun our positions. But they failed. So they withdrew and started shelling us with artillery again.
“We lost three men in the fight, but the Tatmadaw [Burmese armed forces] lost 130,” the Kokang spokesman said.
“In the end, we withdrew our troops a bit. However, the government forces did not capture all our positions.”
On Saturday evening, a vehicle flying a Red Cross flag came under fire when it was travelling from Laogai to Kunlong. Five persons – a staffer of state-run media MRTV, a Red Cross official from Laogai, the son of an army official from Laogai, and two unnamed civilians (one man and one woman) – were injured in the attack.
It was the second such attack on a Red Cross convoy in the same area within a week.
The Burmese military again blamed the MNDAA for Saturday’s attack. However, Tun Myat Linn rejected these allegations.
“We have made it clear since the first attack that we have no units around the area and we are absolutely aware that the Red Cross are not supposed to be fired upon. We have instructed our troops not to shoot at civilians,” he said.
At a press conference in Naypyidaw on Saturday, a Burmese military spokesman also accused the Kokang rebels of recruiting Chinese mercenaries in the conflict. Allies of the MNDAA have rejected the accusation.
At the same news briefing on Saturday, Lt-Gen Mya Tun Oo of the Office of the Army’s Chief of Staff said that since fighting broke out in the Kokang region on 9 February, some 55 Burmese soldiers have been killed, with 108 injured. He estimated that the MNDAA and its allies have lost 72 fighters.