Residents Flee Laukkaing in Northern Myanmar as Rumors of Heavy Fighting Spread

By The Irrawaddy 7 December 2022

People have been leaving Laukkaing Town, home to thousands of migrant workers, in the Kokang Self-administered Zone in northern Shan State over fears that heavy fighting is set to break out between the Myanmar military and the Kokang ethnic armed organization, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).

The rumors of fighting came after fierce clashes between the two sides in late November in Chin Shwe Haw near the border with China and Mt. Nampha in the south of Laukkaing Township.

On Monday, the administrative office of the Kokang Self-administered Zone assured people that the Myanmar military and its affiliated Kokang Border Guard Force can guarantee the safety of locals, and threatened legal action against people spreading rumors.

Hundreds of vehicles packed with people and their possessions have been leaving Laukkaing for towns such as Lashio and Muse in northern Shan State, as well as towns in the Wa Special Region and central Myanmar cities such as Mandalay.

“I think between 200 and 300 vehicles left the town on Tuesday. They don’t want to be trapped in the town if fighting breaks out. The price for transport has surged suddenly. It used to be 35,000 kyats from Laukkaing to Lashio. Now it is 200,000 kyats. Some say [the potential fighting] is just a rumor. But people wouldn’t be fleeing in large numbers if it just a rumor,” said a Laukkaing native and owner of a department store in the town.

KTV lounges, gambling dens and brothels in Laukkaing have been closed until further notice. Temporary camps have even been built on the Chinese side of the border for potentially displaced people, according to residents. The China-based supplier of electricity to the town has said it will cut the power supply to Laukkaing on Wednesday.

“There have been rumors of fighting this week. Departments are operating as normal so far. The Kokang administrative body has issued a letter that the news of fighting is just a rumor. Some people have left town because they are worried. And it will be hard to leave the town if the fighting really happens. You can hardly rent a vehicle in Laukkaing now,” said one local government employee.

The military regime’s deputy home affairs minister Major-General Khun Thant Zaw Htoo met with the Shan State security and border affairs minister Colonel Sein Win in Lashio on Tuesday to discuss regional development. It is not known if they discussed the military situation in Laukkaing.

From early July 2021 to March this year, MNDAA fighters were involved in hundreds of clashes with regime forces around Mongkoe to the west of the Salween River. Fighting has now erupted to the east of the Salween River in the Kokang Self-administered Zone.

Locals and migrant workers are concerned that there could be a repetition of the heavy fighting that took place in Laukkaing in 2015.