NAYPYITAW & CHIANG MAI—A rescue worker was killed and four of his colleagues were wounded when their team came under a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) and sniper attack as fighting continued between an alliance of ethnic armed groups and the Myanmar military on Saturday in at least two places in northern Shan State.
The attack near Lashio followed an assault on a military battalion in Kyaukmae on Friday evening by ethnic fighters. The Myanmar Army said the attack on the battalion was conducted by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), one of the ethnic armed groups active in the area.
Also on Saturday, two more bridges were destroyed, further disrupting civilian transport following the destruction of a bridge in Shan’s Naung Cho Township on Thursday.
The rescue workers from the Lashio-based Social Service Association were hit as they were traveling to nearby Nam Ton Pan Hat village to help villagers trapped there by the fighting. The workers’ vehicles were attacked by RPGs and sniper fire and the association’s chairman, who was driving one of the vehicles, was killed.
Ko Aung Kyaw Oo, a member of the social rescue service association, told The Irrawaddy that chairman U Tun Myint, 56, suffered a fatal bullet wound to his temple. The shot was believed to have been fired by a sniper, after three RPGs landed near them.
“The chairman’s vehicle was in the front; he was driving. He was hit by a sniper bullet in his temple and his vehicle crashed. He died and four others were injured,” Ko Aung Kyaw Oo told The Irrawaddy from Lashio General Hospital’s mortuary on Saturday afternoon.
The chairman is survived by his wife and son. Local people blamed ethnic armed rebels for the attack. As of Saturday afternoon, it was unclear whether the attack was carried out by the TNLA alone or by the alliance it has formed with the Arakan Army (AA) and Kokang’s Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). The alliance killed 15 security personnel and civilians in Mandalay and Naung Cho, northern Shan State, on Thursday.
Military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy on Saturday that the TNLA attacked a Myanmar military battalion based in Kyaukmae, northern Shan on Friday with RPGs, adding there were no casualties.
“One or two people launched three RPGs at the Kyaukmae-based battalion at around 9 p.m. on Friday. They launched the grenades and fled. The RPG landed outside the battalion fence. No soldiers were killed,” Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun said
The Friday night and Saturday morning attacks in Shan State followed Thursday’s coordinated attacks by the alliance. The government labeled the attack “terrorist acts” that could seriously derail the peace process.
“At least four or five areas in northern Shan State are currently seeing active military engagements,” said Mai Mai, a social relief worker based in Kutkai.
She said artillery shelling could be heard near Namkut village in Kutkai Township on Saturday morning from around 6 a.m., leaving villagers in fear that their homes would be struck.
“After receiving calls from villagers—including elderly people, children, pregnant women and people who are sick with the flu—I went there and took 23 people to Kutkai Town. They are afraid the shelling will strike their villages, because they have had this experience before. They said they are not going to the IDP camps, but would go to stay with their relatives in town,” she told The Irrawaddy.
According to local residents in Kutkai, Lashio and Naung Cho townships, two bridges were destroyed on Saturday: a 30-foot span between Kaungkaw and Nam Tone Sone villages; and an 80-foot reinforced concrete arch bridge between Kunlong and Nati on the Hseni-Kunlong-Chinshwehaw Road.
A total of three bridges have been destroyed since Aug. 15, disrupting both civilian and commercial traffic, as well as emergency medical services. One local resident said in a Facebook post early on Saturday morning that an ambulance carrying a patient could not reach its destination as the bridge between Kunlong and Nati was destroyed.
The Ministry of Construction said in a statement released at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday that the two bridges “were destroyed by unidentified armed groups” and that road transportation had been disrupted. Thus the ministry was arranging for temporary, prefabricated “Bailey bridges” to be put up there.
The ministry is also constructing a double Bailey bridge at the site of the Goke Twin Bridge in Naung Cho Township, which was destroyed by rebels on Thursday.
In terms of damage to property and infrastructure, the government put the cost of Thursday’s attacks, which in addition to the destruction of the Goke Twin Bridge and disruption to transportation also damaged a police outpost, toll gates and an anti-narcotics office in Naung Cho, as well as the Defense Services Technological Academy in Pyin Oo Lwin, Mandalay Region, at 283 million kyats (about US$186,400).
The Myanmar Military, or Tatmadaw, said the ethnic allied groups’ attacks were in reprisal for the Tatmadaw’s seizures of drugs and a drug production facility worth a total of 16 billion kyats in the area on July 25 and Aug. 8.
The ethnic alliance denied the military’s claim, saying it launched Thursday’s coordinated attacks in at least five places in response to military offensives against them in their own areas.
In a statement released Saturday, the TNLA, AA and MNDAA claimed they face daily offensives by the Myanmar military, which they accused of stepping up troop deployments and establishing new bases using its unilaterally declared ceasefire periods as cover.
The three groups said that between Dec. 21, 2018 and Aug. 7, 2019 they had clashed with the Myanmar military a total of 432 times; the AA 345 times, mostly in western Myanmar, the TNLA 62 times and the MNDAA 25 times, the latter two in northeast Myanmar.
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