Kokang Rebels Claim Dozens of Govt Soldiers Killed, Arms Seized

By Lawi Weng 24 April 2015

RANGOON — Kokang rebels claimed they have killed dozens of government soldiers and seized numerous small arms while fending off a Burma Army attack on one of their bases in the mountains of northern Shan State’s Laukkai Township on Thursday.

Htun Myat Lin, a spokesperson of the Kokang’s Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), said four battalions belonging to Light Infantry Division No. 33 were involved in an assault on a mountaintop rebel base in an area called Nan Htein Mang Shai, and fierce clashes broke out at three sites around the base.

He said the attack began with an artillery bombardment at 3 am, followed by a ground troop assault starting on 9 am that continued throughout Thursday, adding that the fighting occurred about 6 km northeast of Laukkai.

“We had fighting the whole day and even at night. They stopped attacking us at midnight. Many of them were killed: 90 of them were killed from our estimates at three places and over 100 of them were wounded,” Htun Myat Lin told The Irrawaddy on Friday.

He said the MNDAA seized weapons of the dead and wounded soldiers, adding, “We got 3 pistols and one 120 mm mortar, we even got 50 machine guns normally carried by the army.”

The Irrawaddy was unable to independently verify the claims by the MNDAA, which has been fighting the Burma Army in remote, rugged terrain on the Burma-China border that is difficult to access.

Several Facebook users shared photos of the supposed arms’ seizures, showing dozens of machine guns with the emblem of the 33rd Light Infantry Division.

Htun Myat Lin said some MNDAA fighters posted the photos on social media. He added, “I told them not to post photos of dead bodies because I am worried this fighting will become a racist problem… Burmese people will think the Kokang are very brutal if they see such photos.”

State media on Friday made no mention of the clashes.

Fighting occurred during Thingyan Festival, according to state media, which reported last week that 16 soldiers were killed and 110 injured during attacks on strategic MNDAA outposts on April10-16.

A total of 126 government troops were killed and 359 others injured since fighting in the region erupted on Feb. 9, the report said, while the army recovered the bodies of 74 rebels resulting from 253 hostile engagements.

Fighting broke out in Laukkai Township after the MNDAA, with support of ethnic Palaung and Arakanese rebels, launched attacks on army and police bases. Tens of thousands of civilians have since been displaced. Most belong to the ethnic Chinese Kokang minority and have fled across the border into neighboring China.

The government and an alliance of 16 ethnic armed groups reached an in-principle agreement over the content of a draft nationwide ceasefire agreement on March 30. The ethnic groups are due to convene to discuss endorsing the draft ceasefire.

The government, however, refuses to acknowledge the MNDAA and the Arakan Army as potential signatories to the agreement.