YANGON (DPA) – Myanmar troops killed at least 26 rebels near the Chinese border in accelerated fighting following recent heavy government casualties, state media reported Monday.
Government troops found 18 bodies, and captured eight wounded rebels who died in hospital Sunday night, according to state-run The Mirror newspaper.
Nearly 50 soldiers were killed and dozens injured in combat last week in the northern Shan state.
The army launched an operation Monday after rebels from the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) of Kokang province seized eight weapons from a local militia, the Global New Light of Myanmar reported.
Other ethnic rebel groups including the Kachin Independence Army, the Ta'ang National Liberation Army, the Arakan Army and Shan State Army-North in the Shan state joined them to fight government troops, Kokang rebel spokesman Htun Myat Linn said.
The army was using helicopter gunships and fighter jets to attack rebel positions in Laukkai township in Shan state since Tuesday, media reports said.
"We are now leaving the town as it seems government troops would heavily attack the rebels who are holding some areas of the town after all people were moved to Lashio," local businessman Min Min said.
"Some rebels are in the town and using snipers in fighting in some area of the town," he said.
Thousands of people in the region have crossed the border into China to escape the fighting.
"About 2,000 residents are now sheltering in Yunnan province of China," Htut Myat Linn said.
The rebels are trying to retake the Kokang self-administered zone, which they controlled between 1989 and 2009.
The army seized back the area when the rebels refused to reform into a border guard force under the control of the military in 2009.
"The MNDAA just demands to be a group signing the nationwide ceasefire accord, but Myanmar government didn't accept our demand," Htut Myat Linn said. "What else can we do other than fight them to retake our region?"
The government has signed ceasefire agreements with a dozen ethnic rebel groups over the past three years as the new government attempts to unify the nation after decades of conflict.