Rebel Fighters Attack 2 Towns in Myanmar’s Shan State

By Htet Naing Zaw 19 August 2019

NAYPYITAW—A rebel force comprising around 200 troops attacked Lashio and Kutkai in northern Shan State on Sunday but retreated after clashing with Myanmar Army (or Tatmadaw) troops.

Rebel forces carried out an artillery attack on Kutkai at around 10 a.m. on Sunday, and around 200 rebel fighters approached the town from the southwest at noon but were repulsed by the Myanmar military, said Tatmadaw spokesperson Brigadier-General Zaw Min Tun.

“I heard that the rebel forces suffered casualties. Around 200 troops also approached Lashio from the northeast of the town. They also fled after suffering heavy casualties. [The Myanmar military] also repelled the attack on Kutkai,” he told The Irrawaddy.

The rebel forces’ main goal is to cut off communications and border trade routes, rather than to attack military outposts, the brigadier-general said.

“We have to continue our work to restore regional stability, the rule of law and security. We have submitted our plans to the government,” he said.

He said a bridge on Lashio-Hsenwi-Kunlong Road was blown up at around 5 p.m. on Saturday. It was the third bridge to be destroyed in three days, after two bridges were blown up on Mandalay-Lashio-Muse Road, the main border trade route with China.

“There were three engagements with our troops providing security on Lashio-Kutkai Road, and one engagement on Hsenwi-Kunlong Road. There were no casualties in those engagements,” Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun said.

The President’s Office said nine Myanmar Army soldiers, three police officers and three civilians were killed in joint attacks launched by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, and Arakan Army on Aug. 15 in Shan State’s Naung Cho and Mandalay’s Pyin Oo Lwin. A number of buildings were damaged in the attacks, and the financial damage totaled more than 280 million kyats (about US$185,000), it said.

The rebel groups are destroying bridges in order to prevent the Myanmar military from sending reinforcements into the area, but the attacks are severely affecting border trade, political analyst U Maung Maung Soe said.

“Their intention may not be [to take control of] Lashio. Maybe they have bigger ambitions. They cut off communications to prevent troop reinforcements. To restore stability, talks are needed. But that’s still impossible,” he told The Irrawaddy.

The country suffers no matter which side loses, Dr. Myo Nyunt of the National League for Democracy told reporters in Naypyitaw on Sunday.

“They are our citizens. No matter which side suffers casualties, it is a loss for the country. People must work to stop this, and we will do that to the best of our ability,” Dr. Myo Nyunt said.

The government and the Tatmadaw believe rebel attacks on the Myanmar military’s Defense Service Technology University and a toll gate equipped with an X-ray machine to inspect narcotics in Pyin Oo Lwin were staged in reprisal for the Tatmadaw’s raids on illicit drug production sites in villages in Kutkai Township.

The Tatmadaw said it seized drugs worth 16 billion kyats, as well as drug production equipment and weapons in the raids.

The rebel forces denied the attacks were in retaliation for drug raids, insisting they were staged to counter increased military pressure from the Myanmar military in their areas of control.

In the six months since the Tatmadaw declared a unilateral ceasefire in areas overseen by five of its regional commands, there have been 61 clashes between the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups. As many as 42 of the clashes were with the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army and Shan State Army (Wanhai), according to the Tatmadaw.

Spokesmen for the rebel ethnic armed organizations involved in the attack were not available for comment.

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