World News

Insurgents Attack Town in Myanmar, Killing 19

Posted May 12, 2018 12:18 p.m. EDT

MANDALAY, Myanmar — An attack by an insurgent group killed at least 19 people on Saturday in a town in northeastern Myanmar, on the country’s border with China, officials said.

The attack began early Saturday and lasted about three hours, beginning on the outskirts of the town of Muse in Shan State then moving into its outskirts, said Sai Kyaw Thein, a member of Parliament from Muse.

Among the dead were 15 civilians, three soldiers and a police officer, he said.

The Ta’ang National Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the attack. The group, one of several in Myanmar’s frontier areas that have long battled government forces, said in a statement that it was retaliating for a push by Myanmar’s military against another ethnic insurgent group, the Kachin Independence Army.

A spokesman for the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, known for its campaigns against drug production and distribution, said it had targeted soldiers and militia members who ran a casino.

“Many civilians go to casinos and it causes many social problems; that’s why we launched a major assault,” said the spokesman, Col. Tar Aik Kyaw. He called the casino a “gateway for distributing drugs.”

The attack appeared to be a setback for Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, who has said she wants to bring an end to conflicts with ethnic militias that in some cases have continued for decades.

A government spokesman denounced the attack, saying the high civilian death toll was unacceptable.

“This is not the ethnic rights movement,” said the spokesman, Zaw Htay. “This is a terrorist attack.”

Zaw Htay was quoted by Reuters as saying that the attack had involved about 100 insurgents, with small arms and artillery.

Photos posted on Facebook showed several dead who appeared to be civilians. The images could not be immediately verified.

Sai Kyaw Thein said that 20 people had been wounded and sent to a hospital in Muse, and that two who were severely injured had been sent to a hospital in the Chinese city of Ruili. Several civilians also fled across the border into China.

A statement on the official Facebook page of the commander in chief of Myanmar’s military, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, said that the attack “left innocent civilians dead.”

“Now government military are clearing the area by fighting back to terrorists,” it said.

This year, the government had warned that the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Kachin Independence Army were preparing to attack the town of Lashio, which is about 75 miles south of Muse.

A flyer said that people from the two groups were planning to target public places with bombs. An explosion at a bank in Lashio in February killed two employees and wounded at least 22 others.

The Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Kachin Independence Army are among the groups that blame the government for continuing the oppression of ethnic minorities and refuse to enter peace talks.