YANGON — Nineteen people including a police captain were killed and 29 were wounded when the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) attacked government security posts outside Muse, Shan State, near the border with China early on Saturday morning.
Myanmar State Counselor’s Office Director General U Zaw Htay said 15 civilians, a police captain and three government-backed militia members were killed during the fighting while 20 local people, three policemen and six militia members were wounded.
More than 100 TNLA troops launched a surprise attack on a police outpost at the Pan Kham Bridge at 5:15 a.m., he said in a Facebook post.
The TNLA confirmed it had launched an attack on Pan Kham village, about a mile from Muse, and on a nearby casino and the Pan Kham Bridge, at around 5:30 a.m. The attack ended at about 8:30 am, it said.
U Thaung Tun of Muse-based Karuna Social Services said his organization helped transport the injured to the hospital from the bridge and a nearby jetty, after being alerted to the clash by the sound of gunfire. He said many relatives of the victims had also gone to the hospital.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy at around noon, U Thaung Tun said the fighting had subsided.
“We beg the armed forces to end the fighting in civilian areas. We want peace immediately,” he said.
Shan State lawmaker Sai Kyaw Thein told The Irrawaddy that the TNLA attacked a security outpost manned by police officers and militia members on Pan Kham Bridge. The fighting was over by 9 a.m., he said.
TNLA spokesman Mai Aik Kyaw told The Irrawaddy the attack was a “small” offensive targeting positions held by the Tatmadaw and an allied militia. He said they also attacked a casino in the area.
He said the TNLA launched the attack “because the Myanmar Tatmadaw has been attacking our temporary camps in the jungle. Also, there are military tensions in areas controlled by our allies, the Kachin Independence Army. Therefore, we launched this minor offensive.”
Mai Aik Kyaw said the casino was targeted because it is backed by the militia and its supporter, the Tatmadaw. “There have been so many reports from locals about their lives being damaged by thefts, robberies, gambling and drugs. So we attacked them. Also, the casualties were armed militia members and their families,” he said.
He blamed the high casualty toll on the Tatmadaw and militia, saying their troops fired their weapons blindly.
“When we attacked, they shot back blindly. We don’t know the exact numbers of deaths and we are trying to confirm whose weapons killed those people. We are sorry for the civilian casualties.”
But U Zaw Htay rejected the TNLA’s claim as “unacceptable,” saying launching an attack on a town was not a justifiable response to having been defeated in the jungle, particularly in light of Saturday’s civilian death toll.
“Targeting innocent civilians is not calling for ethnic rights. It’s an act of violence,” he said.
This is the second significant attack by ethnic armed forces in the area. In November 2016, the Northern Alliance, which comprises the TNLA and three other groups, attacked Mong Koe near Muse, harming trade in the area and sparking further conflict.
Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint and Chit Min Tin contributed to this report.