Myanmar military calls for ethnic rebels to join peace talks

At least 30 people were killed Monday in a day of intense fighting in a town on Myanmar's border with China, authorities said, after rebels dressed in police uniforms launched a surprise raid.

Hotel workers in Nan San, a town abutting Myanmar's restive Kokang region where the fighting is taking place, described disoriented people moving rapidly into the town.

"We ethnic armed groups have to fight back to protect our territories because the government army is making a war of aggression, he said".

Fierce gun battles, artillery strikes and fires rocked the town, prompting thousands to flee south or over the border into China. The conflict is the worst to hit the Chinese-speaking Kokang region since 2015, stoking fears of escalation and another mass exodus of refugees into neighboring China.

He urged both sides to adopt peaceful means in resolving their differences through dialogue and consultation.

On Tuesday, six people inside casinos in Laukkai died in the fighting, and government soldiers apprehended about 80 casino workers, locals said.

The Northern Alliance, an umbrella group of rebels including the MNDAA, which has yet to join national peace talks, confirmed its members were fighting in Laukkai.

The renewed clashes are said to have caused a huge blow to Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi's chief goal of reaching a peace deal with ethnic minorities in the country.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang called for an immediate ceasefire in response to the hostilities and said that China was providing assistance on humanitarian grounds on Tuesday, according to Reuters.

The latest clashes are in Shan, a northeastern state which has seen repeated bouts of fighting between the army and ethnic minority groups since November, undercutting a government peace bid.

A statement from the Myanmar military on Tuesday said the Kokang and its allies had still not yet signed cease-fire pacts, but that they were still welcome to attend a peace conference later this month if they laid down their arms.

"In the Laukai attack, the Tatmadaw [military] could seize 20 burnt bodies of the insurgent group, 13 kinds of weapons including two RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades] and related ammunition", said a statement published by the army-run Myawady newspaper.

The Kokang region's people speak a Chinese dialect and use the yuan as currency.

An army source told AFP fighting was continuing as darkness fell.

"Since the outbreak of the conflict, some Myanmar residents living in the border areas have crossed over to the Chinese side for safety reasons".

  • Joe Gonzales