Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur)
Myanmar rebels attack army post near Thai border
YANGON: Ethnic minority Karen insurgents attacked a Myanmar army outpost near the Thai border on Tuesday in some of the most intense clashes since a military coup nearly three months ago threw the country into crisis.
The Karen National Union (KNU), Myanmar’s oldest rebel force, said it had captured the army camp on the west bank of the Salween river, which forms the border with Thailand.
The Myanmar military later hit back against the insurgents with air strikes, the KNU and Thai authorities said.
The fighting took place as the junta, in a setback for diplomatic efforts by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), said it would “positively” consider the bloc’s suggestions to end the turmoil in Myanmar but only when stability was restored.
The Asean leaders said after meeting at the weekend they had reached a consensus with the junta on steps to end violence and promote dialogue between the rival Myanmar sides.
The outbreak of hostilities in the border area shifted the focus of opposition to the junta away from the pro-democracy protests that have taken place in cities and towns across the country since the coup on Feb.1.
The military overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, detained her and other civilian politicians, then cracked down with lethal force on anticoup protesters. Security forces have killed more than 750 civilians in the demonstrations, an activist group says.
The Karen and other ethnic minority forces based in frontier regions have supported the largely urban-based pro-democracy opponents of the junta.
In Tuesday’s fighting, villagers on the Thai side of the river said heavy gunfire started before dawn. Video posted on social media showed flames and smoke on the forested hillside and KNU forces had captured the outpost, the group’s head of foreign affairs, Saw Taw Nee, told Reuters.
The Myanmar military later mounted air strikes, Saw Taw Nee said. There was no word on casualties and 450 Thai villagers were moved away from the border to safety, the Thai military said.
The Myanmar army made no comment. It has historically portrayed itself as the one institution that can keep together the ethnically diverse country of more than 53 million people.
The KNU agreed to a ceasefire in 2012, ending its struggle for autonomy that began shortly after Myanmar’s independence from Britain in 1948.
But its forces have clashed with the army since it seized power, ending a decade of democratic reforms that had also brought relative peace to Myanmar’s borderlands.
Fighting has also flared in the north and west.