RANGOON — Burma Army units have clashed with Shan ethnic rebels in central Shan State’s Kyethi Township since Thursday, and bouts of heavy fighting have left five government soldiers dead and about 50 injured, while two rebels were killed and three wounded, according to rebel sources.
Khun Sai, general secretary of the Shan State Progress Party, the political wing of the Shan State Army-North (SSA-North), said the army had repeatedly ordered rebels to abandon a jungle base at Wan Wap village, located about 13 km (8 miles) from Kyethi (Kesi) town, before launching offensive operations in the area.
“Clashes broke out in at least seven places in the area. They used artillery and are still shooting at our fighters,” he said on Friday morning. “About 200 local people were displaced and took refuge at a Buddhist monastery.”
Khun Sai said that about eight Burma Army battalions under the Northeastern Regional Command, including Light Infantry Battalions 247, 248 and 523, were deployed in operations against the rebels.
He said about 50 government soldiers were injured and five were killed, while 2 Shan rebels were shot dead and three were wounded. Khun Sai added, “It’s better if we can solve this political conflict at the negotiating table.”
The SSA-North is one the largest rebels groups in Burma and has had a bilateral ceasefire with the central government since 2012, but its officers have reported hundreds of armed skirmishes with government forces since.
All Wan Wap villagers had fled, some to the township capital and some to a neighboring Shan village, according to resident Shwe Thein, who had gone to Kyethi town.
He said that in Kyethi the fighting in the nearby mountains could still be heard. “There is major fighting going on. We could hear gun fire and artillery the whole day yesterday and also this morning,” Shwe Thein said. “We saw lot of government troops heading to the fighting area yesterday. The situation in the town is normal.”
He said violence had erupted in the area several times in recent months and some 300 Shan villagers had already left the area some time ago to stay at a pagoda elsewhere. Recently, the area appeared to have calmed down, but when the villagers moved back to Wan Wap they found that Burma Army soldiers had occupied about half of the houses.
Shwe Thein said the villagers had collected signatures for a letter to President Thein Sein last month, in which they asked for the army to leave their homes. “They sent it to president, but we did not hear any response from him yet,” he said.