Conflict between government troops and armed rebels left at least seven Burmese soldiers dead and another 20 injured in eastern Burma late last week, state media reported on Monday.
State-owned daily Global New Light of Myanmar said the clash was prompted by a rebel “ambush” on government columns in Kunlong Township, located in northern Shan State near the border with China. The deadly incident took place on Dec. 10, the report said.
“The remnant Kokang insurgent group launched unprovoked attacks on Tatmadaw [Burma Army] camps and columns while the government is implementing the peace process and the Tatmadaw is determined to effectively counter the attacks in cooperation with local people,” read Monday’s report.
The Kokang are an ethnic minority primarily in northern Shan State, occupying a border territory between the Salween River and the Chinese border. Their roughly 3,000-strong army is known as the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).
While the Kokang signed a new ceasefire with the government in 2007, the group is allied with several other ethnic armed groups in the area, which lies in the center of a major trade route with China and in the crosshairs of several hydropower and other development projects.
Among the Kokang’s allies are the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Burma’s last remaining major ethnic armed groups that have not secured bilateral peace agreements with the government.
A spokesperson for the TNLA, Mai Aik Kyaw told The Irrawaddy on Monday that a combined force of allied troops did engage in combat with the government last week, but that the conflict occurred about 100 km west of the location cited in state media. The spokesperson said there had been an increase government troops in rebel-held Tamoenye and Kutkai townships, resulting in conflict on Dec. 10 and 13.
“There was no ambush by our allied troops, apart from the fighting in those townships,” said Mai Aik Kyaw.
Burma’s military-drafted 2008 Constitution awarded the Kokang a level of autonomy by granting the group a self-administered region in Konkyan and Laukkai townships in northern Shan State. The group is believed to have last fought with the Burma Army in 2009.
Several rounds of peace negotiations between the government and more than a dozen ethnic armed groups stagnated earlier this year, postponing a long-awaited nationwide ceasefire agreement meant to end Burma’s decades of civil war.