Myanmar ethnic groups seize more outposts in junta offensive

Myanmar ethnic groups seize more outposts in junta offensive

YANGON (AFP): Myanmar ethnic armed groups seized a handful of outposts on Saturday as they pressed their offensive against the junta in the north of the country, local media reports said.

Fighting has ramped up across vast swathes of northern Shan state near the Chinese border this week, forcing more than 23,000 people from their homes, according to the UN.

The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Arakan Army (AA) say they have captured dozens of outposts and four towns and blocked vital trade routes to China.

Local media reports said TNLA fighters on Saturday seized two outposts controlled by pro-military militia near Lashio, the largest town in northern Shan state and home to the military’s northeastern command.

The MNDAA said it had seized three military outposts further to the east.

The junta has not commented on Saturday’s clashes but on Thursday a spokesman dismissed as “propaganda” claims that the allied ethnic armed groups had captured several towns in Shan state.

The junta on Saturday said the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), another ethnic armed group based in neighbouring Kachin state, had joined the attacks on its forces, and that it would retaliate.

Local media reported the junta had shelled the remote town of Laiza on the Chinese border, home to the KIA’s headquarters.

Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing this week vowed the military “will launch counterattacks” against the groups.

On the other side of the border, a team of AFP journalists were stopped Saturday in China’s Yunnan province at a permanent police checkpoint about 50 kilometres (30 miles) up the valley from the border crossing of Chinshwehaw town, which the Myanmar military said on Wednesday it had lost control over.

China called on Thursday for an immediate ceasefire in Shan state — where a billion-dollar rail route, part of Beijing’s Belt and Road infrastructure project, is planned.

Myanmar’s borderlands are home to more than a dozen ethnic armed groups, some of which have fought the military for decades over autonomy and control of lucrative resources.

The AA, MNDAA and TNLA say the military has suffered dozens killed, wounded and captured since Friday.

The remoteness of the rugged, jungle terrain — home to pipelines that supply oil and gas to China — and patchy communications make it difficult to verify fatalities in the fighting.