YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar’s army has seized an important outpost from a powerful rebel faction during a bout of intense fighting, state media and insurgents confirmed Sunday, December 18, 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 (KIA), based in the northern state of Kachin and one of the strongest rebel groups.
Troops backed by jets and artillery captured Gidon Outpost early Saturday, December 17, 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, de facto civilian leader 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 to the south of Kachin, renewed fighting has broken out in recent weeks between the military and an alliance of rebel factions, sending refugees streaming over the Chinese border and creating tensions with Beijing.
The KIA is one of the rebel groups involved in that fighting.
Analysts say the recent unrest in Shan threatens a second round of peace talks which Suu Kyi had scheduled for February.
The army has also been engaged in a bloody crackdown in the north of the western state of Rakhine that has sent more than 20,000 from the Muslim Rohingya minority fleeing to Bangladesh. (READ: Malaysia hits out at Myanmar over ‘ethnic cleansing’)
KIA spokesman Daung Kha warned that the fresh fighting would only draw rebel 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. – Rappler.com