RANGOON — Heavy clashes between the Burma Army and a combined force of Palaung, Kachin and Kokang ethnic rebels in northern Shan State’s Kutkhai Township killed 17 government soldiers on Wednesday, a Palaung rebel source has claimed.
Tar Ban Hla, a spokesperson of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), told The Irrawaddy that the Burma Army’s Infantry Division 11 made an incursion into TNLA area, prompting a response by fighters of the TNLA, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), a small Kokang militia.
He said the rebels in northern Kutkai Township’s Tarmoenye Sub-Township had then been surrounded by government forces and were forced to face the approaching soldiers at close range.
“From our side, we do not have big artillery. This is why we always try to get as close as possible on site when we fight them. They used a lot of artillery,” Tar Ban Hla said, adding that clashes began at 10 am and ended at nightfall.
“We ended the attack when the rains began to pour down last night at 6 pm,” he said. “According to our ground report, 17 of them were killed and 4 were wounded. We fought for long hours. They tried to block every movement of our troops. This is why we have to attack them,” Tar Ban Hla said, adding that four rebels were wounded.
Since early 2014, northern Shan State has been the scene of occasionally heavy fighting between the Burma Army and the TNLA, which has been joined by other rebels operating in the region. In recent weeks, it appeared fighting in the area had quieted down.
Government forces have sharply increased their presence in Palaung areas in Kutkhai, Namkham and Namsam townships since 2013, and the TNLA has claimed that 2,000 soldiers are deployed in the area. The TNLA has said that it killed more than 200 soldiers during clashes this year.
The TNLA and the KIA are the only two major ethnic armed groups that have yet to sign bilateral ceasefires with the central government.