YANGON — At least six police officers were killed Monday in a surprise pre-dawn raid by ethnic minority rebels in Kokang territory, an army source said.
Artillery and small arms fire continued throughout Monday in Laukkai, close to the Chinese border in northeastern Shan State.
Fighting in 2015 in Kokang, which is dominated by the Chinese-speaking Kokang ethnic minority, left scores dead as the area emerged as a new centre of violence.
Myanmar is already torn by various ethnic insurgencies and the Kokang clashes raised tensions with neighbouring China.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s government is desperate to end the decades-long borderland conflicts, but intensifying fighting threatens peace efforts.
Rebels from the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army struck a police station and killed six traffic police officers, an army source told AFP, requesting anonymity.
“Rebels torched some vehicles and set fire to some hotels in Laukkai town. They fired heavy artillery into the town… so our Tatmadaw is fighting back to protect the people,” the source added.
Unverified video shared on social media appeared to show parts of the town still ablaze on Monday afternoon while civilians scurried to safety amid the rattle of small arms fire.
The Northern Alliance, an umbrella group of rebels including the MNDAA has yet to join national peace talks. It confirmed its members were fighting in Laukkai.
But in a Facebook post it said they carried out the attack “to resist an enemy offensive in self-defence” and cited Myanmar military operations since December.
In early 2015 dozens of civilians, rebels and army troops died in months of fighting across the remote and mountainous region, sending tens of thousands of people fleeing across the border into China.
China issued a stern reproach to Myanmar after Tatmadaw warplanes dropped bombs on its side of the border during that bout of fighting, killing some civilian farmers.
Kokang has strong bonds with China — local people speak a Chinese dialect and China’s yuan is the common currency.
Skirmishes have intensified across Shan state since late last year, claiming more than 160 lives across an arc of land in the long border region.