An alliance of ethnic rebel groups in Myanmar has launched coordinated attacks on the military across the country’s north, with local media reporting many casualties.
Friday’s development poses a new challenge to the generals who seized power from the elected government in February 2021 and have struggled to quell resistance to its rule.
The Brotherhood Alliance – made up of Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) – launched a “military operation”, it said in a statement on Friday.
Pro-military Telegram channels said the rebels were attacking 12 towns or settlements across a swathe of Shan state about 100km (62 miles) across.
The three rebel groups – which analysts say can call on at least 15,000 fighters between them – did not immediately provide details on casualties or whether they had taken territory, AFP news agency reported.
But German news agency dpa said they had targeted various posts in towns such as Lashio, Kyaukme, Naungcho, Chinshwehaw, and Laukkaing, which are under the control of the military.
Dpa said about 20 soldiers were killed as one of the armed groups seized control of the customs office in Chinshwehaw on Friday morning.
“The alliance seized the customs office in Chinshwehaw this morning and the junta forces were killed,” a local man from Lashio, who requested anonymity, told dpa. “There was also fighting in Lashio since the early morning, but we have not had any big news here.”
Myanmar’s Mizzima News site also reported 20 casualties, including soldiers and police officers. The army did not immediately comment on the attack.
The MNDAA said its fighters had closed the roads from the trade hub of Lashio to Chinshwehaw and Muse on the China border in advance of a “major offensive”.
Footage shared on MNDAA’s media channel showed fighters in what appeared to be an abandoned camp, with weapons and boxes of ammunition scattered across the ground. It did not say where the footage was taken.
“All shops are closed and no one is going out,” a resident of Hopang township, about 10km (6.2 miles) from Chinshwehaw, told AFP. “We can hear the sounds of aircraft and gunfire constantly,” they said, requesting anonymity for security reasons.
A rescue worker in Lashio who also requested anonymity for safety reasons told AFP that rebels had begun shelling the military base near the town from 4am on Friday (21:30 GMT on Thursday) and that the military responded with artillery fire.
All flights to and from Lashio airport had been cancelled on Friday “because of the situation”, an airline ticketing agency told AFP.
Myanmar’s borderlands are home to more than a dozen ethnic rebel groups, some of which have fought the military for decades over autonomy and control of lucrative resources.
In February 2021, Myanmar’s army removed the de facto head of the government, Aung San Suu Kyi, in a violent coup. Since then, the military has imposed brutal rule over the country and used force to crush resistance.