11 July 2024

Yangon, Myanmar – Myanmar’s military has lost control of a strategic northern town on the Chinese border following days of clashes with three ethnic armed groups, a junta spokesman said.

Fighting has raged since Friday across a swathe of Myanmar’s northern Shan state — where a billion-dollar rail link is planned as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road global infrastructure project.

The Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) say they have seized several military posts and key roads linking Myanmar with China, its biggest trade partner.

“Government, administrative organisations and security organisations are no longer present” in Chinshwehaw town, which borders China’s Yunnan province, Zaw Min Tun said in a statement late Wednesday.

Clashes have taken place at 10 locations across Shan state over the past six days, he said, without giving details on casualties.

He accused the three armed groups of “blowing up power stations, blowing up bridges, destroying transportation routes”, without giving details.

China called on Thursday for an “immediate” ceasefire.

Beijing “urges all parties to immediately cease fire and stop fighting,” foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a regular press briefing.

More than a quarter of Myanmar’s $1.8 billion border trade with China passed through Chinshwehaw between April and September, junta-controlled media reported in September, citing the commerce ministry.

A resident of Hsenwi, around 90 kilometres (55 miles) from Chinshwehaw, told AFP on Thursday that they could hear gunshots outside their town.

Internet access was patchy and thousands of people had arrived in the town seeking safety, the resident said, asking for anonymity for security reasons.

The price of rice and some commodities brought in from southern Myanmar had more than doubled at some shops in Muse, a trade hub on the China border, a resident told AFP.

There was no fighting in or around the town, they said, asking to remain anonymous for security reasons.

The three armed groups — which analysts say can call on at least 15,000 fighters between them — have fought regularly with the military over autonomy and control of resources. AFP has attempted to reach the TNLA and AA for comment.

– Thousands displaced –

The MNDAA released footage on Monday that it said showed its fighters occupying Chinshwehaw. The three armed groups say the military has suffered from the fighting, with dozens killed, wounded and captured since Friday. Analysts say both sides likely inflate or deflate casualty figures.

The United Nations says it fears thousands of people have been displaced by the fighting, with some fleeing across the border into China.

On Tuesday China’s minister for public security met junta chief Min Aung Hlaing in the capital Naypyidaw, Myanmar state media said, for a second day of talks with top junta officials about the clashes.

They discussed attacks by the MNDAA “on security camps… with attempts to deteriorate peace and stability in the region”, the Global New Light said.

China is a top ally and major arms supplier of the junta, and has refused to label its 2021 power grab a coup.

Beijing maintains ties with some ethnic armed groups along its border with Myanmar, home to ethnic Chinese communities who use Chinese SIM cards and currency.

It has previously denied reports it has supplied the armed groups with weapons.