Burmese state media announced on Friday that Burma Army operations against ethnic Kokang rebels in northern Shan State have cost the lives of 47 soldiers so far, while 73 were wounded during the recent heavy fighting.
The Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said at least three armed engagements on Feb. 9-12 between government forces and the rebels, also known as the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), in the Kokang Special Region’s Laukkai Township led to the casualties.
It said “Kokang renegade troops” attacked a pro-government militia and were prevented from assaulting a military headquarters in Kongyan region, adding that the army responded with five airstrikes.
“So far, the fighting has left the government forces with 47 dead, 73 wounded and five vehicles destroyed,” the paper said. “The Kokang renegade groups were found to be good at military maneuvering with the use of scores of heavy weapons, including anti-aircraft machine guns.”
“[T]he current situation in Laukkai has returned to normal thanks to the joint efforts of the government troops and police forces,” the paper claimed.
Htun Myat Lin, general-secretary of MNDAA, said at least three Kokang fighters were killed and eight injured during the Feb. 9-12 fighting.
He said tens of thousands of local residents had fled Laukkai Township, the region’s biggest town, and crossed into China’s Yunnan Province in order to escape the heavy fighting, which involved Burma Army airstrikes by Mi-35 Russian-made helicopter gunships and Mi-29 Russian-made fighter jets.
“Almost all local residents fled their homes for safety. Almost all towns and villages were empty. They fled their homes after the Burmese army use planes to bomb. Businesses in Laukkai town are shutting down,” Htun Myat Lin said.
Chinese state media reports have confirmed that large groups of Kokang refugees have streamed across the border into Yunnan Province, although no estimates of the total number of refugees were mentioned. The reports said the Kokang, an ethnic Chinese minority from Burma, were being taken care of by local authorities and organizations.
A report on China.org.cn on Thursday said, “The conflict has caused a huge exodus of refugees clogging at the border of China’s Yunnan Province.”
Fighting has escalated in recent weeks in the Kokang region, located on the Burma-China border, and the MNDAA and its allies the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Shan State Army–North and the Arakan Army have taken a growing number of government forces entering the region.
According to some reports, the MNDAA was attempting to retake areas in the region that it lost during a 2009 Burma Army offensive that crushed the rebel group.
An estimated 1,000 MNDAA fighters along with hundreds of other rebel fighters have clashed in at least 13 separate areas in Laukkai Township in recent days.
Meanwhile, further west, in northern Kachin State, KIA sources said they had also come under Burma Army assault in recent days.
A KIA officer based in Laiza said government forces had been firing mortar rounds from Feb. 10, while about 30 army trucks carrying reinforcements were seen travelling north on the road from Momauk town to Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State.
“They fired 60-mm and 81-mm [rounds] around areas nearby Laiza. They fired it almost every day in early morning and at night since Feb. 10. They fired six times last night. We don’t know about their intentions, but we are now on alert and we will fire back when we are ordered to,” said the officer, who declined to be named as he was not authorized to speak with the media.