RANGOON — Government troops and ethnic Kokang rebels clashed briefly in Laukkai over the weekend, less than two weeks after martial law was lifted in the area.
The military-run Myawaddy newspaper reported that soldiers from the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) fired upon a military patrol in Laukkai town shortly before midnight on Friday, before retreating towards the Chinese border in the northeast when the patrol returned fire.
The report added that the Burma Army combed the area the following morning and found a cache of rockets and mines belonging to the Kokang insurgents, and would continue patrolling the area to protect public safety.
Residents of both Laukkai and regional center Lashio, 160 kilometers to the southwest, said they had heard about the clashes, which were minor compared to the MNDAA assault on the town in February.
“Everything is normal in Laukkai,” said local resident Moe Tun, adding that he was unaware of whether the situation had changed in the hills surrounding the town.
The clash occurred ten days after the government rescinded its declaration of a state of emergency in Laukkai on Nov. 17. Martial law was first declared on Feb. 18 followed an assault on the town by MNDAA forces the previous week.
Tens of thousands of Laukkai residents fled their homes in the aftermath of the February clashes, with ethnic Kokang residents heading across the Chinese border and migrants from other parts of Burma fleeing to Lashio and further afield.
Most of those who fled have since returned to their homes in Laukkai, according to Yang Kyin Kan, the vice chairman of the Lashio-based Kokang Democracy and Unity Party.
The MNDAA, one of several ethnic armed group offshoots of the defunct Communist Party of Burma, exercised de facto rule over Laukkai for two decades under the command of Peng Jiasheng.
Amid accusations of the armed group’s involvement in gunrunning and drug trafficking, Peng Jiasheng’s residence was raided in August 2009, in events that culminated a month later with the expulsion of the MNDAA from Laukkai and the takeover of the region by the Burma Army.
The MNDAA, a member of the United Nationalities Federal Council, is among those ethnic armed groups the current government has excluded from the peace process. The exclusion of the Kokang insurgents, along with the Arakan Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, was cited by other armed groups as a reason for refusing to sign the government’s “nationwide” ceasefire agreement in Naypyidaw last month.