Thousands Flee Laukkai Clashes

By Nan Lwin Hnin Pwint 10 March 2017

RANGOON—Thousands of people including locals and migrant workers have fled clashes between the Burma Army and the Northern Alliance in Laukkai, the administrative capital of the ethnic Kokang region of Shan State.

People have been fleeing the area since renewed clashes broke out on March 6. More than 20,000 have reportedly fled to border camps in China, and more than 2,000 arrived in Mandalay on Thursday after taking shelter in Man Su Monastery in Lashio, according to U Pinna Nanda, the abbot of the monastery.

“There are more migrants from around the country than Laukkai locals,” he said, adding that local civil society organizations (CSOs) and government officials had provided aid for the people.

Ko Thant Zin, a volunteer helping war victims in Laukkai, said people without documents to cross the border were escaping to China through the forest. China’s Foreign Ministry said on Thursday that more than 20,000 people from northern Shan State had flooded into its border camps in recent months.

Around 1 a.m. on March 6, Kokang armed ethnic troops raided hotels and casinos in Laukkai and carried out attacks on police stations and Burma Army outposts on the China-Burma border.

The Northern Alliance coalition, which includes the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Arakan Army (AA), was involved in the attacks.

Burma’s State Counselor’s Office released a statement on Monday claiming that five civilians and five traffic police officers died in the clashes. Around 20 burnt bodies were found, the statement said, and four traffic police officers were taken hostage.

Clashes continued the following day with both sides yet to release new statements.

Hotels, markets, restaurants, casinos and other businesses have been shut down because of the fighting, making thousands of internal migrant workers redundant overnight.

Volunteer U Sithu Tun said most of the migrant workers are from central Burma and work on sugarcane plantations among other businesses.

“Some don’t have the money to go back,” he said. “We are also helping them. This time, the fighting is different from the clashes in 2015. The military has tightened security because the other side wore plain clothes when they launched the attacks.”

In February 2015, MNDAA troops, who were trying to retake the Kokang Self-Administered Zone, attacked Burma Army outposts outside Laukkai. The fighting lasted for four months before the MNDAA declared a unilateral ceasefire in June.

A police officer in Laukkai who asked for anonymity said Burma Army troops were deployed in the town and there were ongoing clashes in the surrounding area.

Tensions have remained high between Burma Army and Northern Alliance troops since last November when the alliance launched attacks on military outposts and police posts at the Muse 105th Mile Border Trade Zone and in Mong Ko in northern Shan State. The coalition said that the attacks were intended to counter the Burma Army’s continuous assaults on its mountain outposts.