Myanmar’s army has seized an important outpost from a powerful ethnic armed group during a bout of intense fighting, state media and insurgents confirmed Sunday, in the latest blow to peace efforts.
Fighting has blighted Myanmar’s border regions for decades, pitting various ethnic minority groups seeking autonomy or independence against the notoriously abusive military.
The latest clashes erupted between the military and the Kachin Independence Army, one of the country’s strongest ethnic armed groups with an estimated 10,000 troops according to Myanmar Peace Monitor.
Troops backed by jets and artillery captured Gidon Outpost early Saturday, according to the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper.
The report said both sides suffered losses but did not disclose figures.
Daung Kha, a spokesman for the KIA, confirmed the outpost’s capture but said rebel troops were trying to retake it.
“We are fighting them to get it back, today there is still fighting,” he told AFP.
The skirmish is significant because it is taking place close to the KIA’s well-fortified headquarters in Laiza.
Since winning landmark elections a year ago, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has made the forging of a lasting peace deal a cornerstone of her administration.
But her time in office has witnessed some of the fiercest fighting in years between some rebel groups and the military, a force that under a junta-era constitution she has almost no control over.
In Shan State, renewed fighting has broken out in recent weeks between the military and an alliance of ethnic armed groups, including the KIA, sending refugees streaming over the Chinese border and creating tensions with Beijing.
Analysts say the recent unrest in Shan threatens a second round of peace talks which Aung San Suu Kyi had scheduled for February.
KIA spokesman Daung Kha warned that the fresh fighting would only draw ethnic armed groups closer into alliances.
“If the government cannot control the army not to fight, we will be forming an ethnic alliance armed group soon and will forcefully fight back,” he said.
In the country’s commercial hub Yangon on Sunday afternoon around 1,000 protesters gathered in support of the military operation.
“Myanmar’s Tatmadaw is now fighting a fair war,” Mar Mar, a female protester, said using the official name for the army.