Yangon: At least six police officers were killed on Monday in a surprise predawn raid by ethnic minority rebels on a town in a restive region of Myanmar bordering China, an army source said.
Artillery and small arms fire continued throughout Monday in Laukkai, a main town in the Kokang region of the northeastern state of Shan.
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 (MNDAA) 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, using another term for the Myanmar army.
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 said Myanmar warplanes dropped bombs on its side of the border during that bout of fighting.
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.