Clashes with ethnic rebels in Myanmar’s southeastern Shan State have killed more than 160 people including 74 soldiers, according to the military Tuesday.
Fighting had intensified in the mountainous area along the Myanmar-China border since an alliance of four ethnic rebel groups launched a joint offensive in November last year.
On Tuesday, the military released a statement saying 74 soldiers, 15 police, 13 local militias and 13 civilians have died during months-long conflicts in restive Shan.
It added that at least 45 rebels have been killed and four others captured alive by troops.
In November, the combined forces of the Northern Alliance — the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) and Arakan Army (AA) — attacked military checkpoints, police outposts and the 105th Mile Trade Zone in Muse town.
The rebels had held the strategic town of Mongkoe in the area for nearly threeweeks, but withdrew after government troops fought back using military helicopters and heavy weapons in early December.
Despite the government’s subsequent announcement that the area had been brought under control, fighting is still reported.
Since independence from Britain in 1948, Myanmar (then Burma) has seen over a half-century of armed conflict involving ethnic rebels.
Replacing the junta in 2011, former President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian administration began peace talks with rebels.
The talks led to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA), a landmark peace deal between his government and eight out of the 15 rebel groups invited. However, several major rebel groups refrained.
Myanmar still witnesses some of the fiercest fighting between certain rebel groups and the military although a civilian government took power in March 2016.
State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly called on the rebels to join the peace process by signing the NCA.
However, seven ethnic rebel groups released a joint statement Friday saying they have decided not to sign the ceasefire agreement, saying the NCA can’t bring peace as it lacks all-inclusiveness.
“Instead we must forge a new path to peace,” the groups said after meeting in the Shan border town of Pangkham.
Among the groups are the KIA, MNDAA, TNLA, AA, United Wa State Army, National Democratic Alliance Army and Shan State Army-North.