YANGON (Reuters) – Dozens of Myanmar soldiers have been killed in several clashes between ethnic rebels and the army along the border with China, state media reported on Tuesday, threatening leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s chief goal of ending decades of ethnic strife.
More than 20,000 people from Myanmar have crossed China’s border in recent weeks to escape the bitter fighting in the north, prompting Beijing to call for ceasefire between ethnic militias and Myanmar security forces.
“There were at least 48 armed clashes with the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), resulting in the deaths of dozens of soldiers,” Myanmar’s state-run daily, the Global New Light of Myanmar, said.
It did not give exact numbers of soldiers killed in what it described as area clearance operations by government troops running from March 6 to 12.
Last week, the government said five residents and five traffic policemen had been killed and twenty dead bodies discovered after the MNDAA’s March 6 initial assault on Laukkai, the capital of the northeastern region of Kokang.
“Scores of citizens” were injured in the attacks, the paper added.
Suu Kyi, who swept to power in 2015 on promises of national reconciliation, has been struggling to give fresh impetus to the stuttering peace process, as ethnic representatives accuse her of siding with the military.
About 270 staff of a hotel in Laukkai were “abducted” by the MNDAA on March 6 and taken to the neighboring Chinese town of Nansan for forced military training, the paper said.
MNDAA had safely escorted the hotel staff to Nansan in a move the workers “supported and acclaimed”, the group said on its website.
The area was now in a “state of war” as fighting worsened, the group said in an “urgent notice” posted on the website on Sunday.
MNDAA is a part of the Northern Alliance – a coalition of rebel groups comprising one of Myanmar’s most powerful militias, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), and two smaller groups that have been in a stand-off with the Myanmar military since clashes in the Kokang area in 2015.
Many died and tens of thousands fled the region during that fighting, which also spilled over into Chinese territory and resulted in the death of five Chinese people, angering Beijing.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)