RANGOON — Fighting flared in the ethnic minority strongholds of northern Shan, Kachin and Arakan states last week even as most of Burma was busy celebrating the Buddhist New Year, casting further doubt on the ability of the government and ethnic armed groups in Burma to achieve a meaningful end to decades of hostilities.
Heavy fighting over the weekend around Laukkai, in northern Shan State’s Kokang Special Region, resulted in dozens of casualties and continued into Monday, according to a spokesman for Kokang rebels in northern Shan State against whom government troops are battling. Prior to that, state media said on Thursday that the military had managed to occupy “the main strategic outposts of the Kokang rebels” after fighting from April 10-16 in which 16 government troops were killed and 110 injured.
Since the fighting broke out on Feb. 9, the Burma Army-run Myawaddy news outlet said a total of 126 government troops were killed and 359 others injured, an acknowledgement of some of the deadliest clashes in years between the government and ethnic armed groups.
Over that period, the Burma Army said it had recovered the bodies of 74 Kokang rebel soldiers resulting from 253 hostile engagements with the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) in Laukkai.
Htun Myat Lin, the MNDAA spokesman, said he could not confirm the government’s claim of having recovered 74 of the rebel group’s soldiers, saying only that “we have not lost many.” He rejected the assertion that the Burma Army had made territorial gains over the April 10-16 period.
Htun Myat Lin said additional intense fighting beginning Sunday in Shikawnin and Shitontshein areas east of Laukkai had killed two MNDAA soldiers and injured one, while the Burma Army lost 21 soldiers and suffered between 65 and 70 injuries.
“Until this morning, the Tatmadaw [Burma Army] has been shooting toward our posts, using 122 mm rocket launchers and shelling at the same time,” the spokesperson said on Monday.
An accurate picture of casualty counts on either side has been difficult to ascertain, with often wide disparities existing between state media accounts of the fighting and Htun Myat Lin’s version of events. The MNDAA spokesman has consistently contradicted Burma Army claims, and vice versa.
In Kachin State’s Hpakant Township, meanwhile, Brigade No. 6 of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) traded fire with the Burma Army over the weekend.
The KIA’s deputy chief of staff, Gen. Gun Maw, told The Irrawaddy that the clash was minor and that Monday brought no reports of further clashes.
The Burma also said last week that it had conducted military operations in western Arakan State, where fighting broke out with Arakan Army troops in the area.
Nyo Tun Aung, the Arakan Army’s deputy chief of staff, told The Irrawaddy that his armed group had lost one soldier during three days of fighting.
“The clashes between the AA’s Brigade No. 5 and Light Infantry Battalion 539 in Kyauktaw Township were heavy and we lost one soldier on the second day, on April 18,” he said.
Clashes between the Arakan Army and the Burma Army, an uncommon occurrence, were first reported on March 29.
Just two days later, however, government negotiations and representatives from ethnic armed groups’ Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT) hailed what they called a breakthrough in negotiations aimed at achieving a nationwide ceasefire accord. The NCCT considers both the Arakan Army and MNDAA to be part of its alliance, though the government does not recognize their memberships.
Additional reporting by The Irrawaddy’s Kyaw Kha.