Myanmar confirms that a key northeastern city on the border with China has been taken by an ethnic alliance

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BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar’s military government has acknowledged that it withdrew its forces from a key city on the northeast border with China after it was taken over by an alliance of ethnic armed groups, it has been fighting for months.

The fall of Laukkaing on Thursday night is the biggest in a series of defeats suffered by Myanmar’s military government since the The ethnic alliance launched an offensive on October 27. It underlines the pressure the government is under as it fights pro-democracy guerrillas following the military takeover in 2021, as well as armed groups of ethnic minorities across the country.

Ethnic armed organizations have fought for greater autonomy for decades, but Myanmar has been ravaged by what amounts to Civil war since the army took power. in February 2021 by the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, sparking nationwide armed resistance by pro-democracy forces.

The Three Brotherhoods Alliance that took Laukkaing is composed of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, and the Arakan Army. The MNDAA is a military force of the Kokang minority, of Chinese ethnicity.

Photos and videos on social media showed a large number of weapons that the alliance claimed to have captured.

Laukkaing is the capital of the Kokang Self-Administered Zone, which geographically forms part of northern Shan State in Myanmar.

Myanmar government spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun told Popular News Journal, a pro-army website, on Saturday that the army and its local commanders relinquished control of Laukkaing after considering many aspects, including the security of the families of soldiers. parked there.

He said the military also took into consideration Myanmar’s relationship with China, which is just across the border from Laukkaing. China, which has good relations with both the military and the ethnic alliance, has been seeking an end to the fighting.

Beijing protested after artillery shells fell on its territory on Wednesday, wounding five people. Zaw Min Tun said the alliance had fired the projectiles and that he tried to blame the military to damage his relationship with China.

A statement posted by the alliance on social media on Friday evening declared that the entire Kokang region had become a “Military Council-free zone”, a reference to Myanmar’s ruling junta.

He said 2,389 military personnel, including six brigadier generals, and their families had surrendered on Friday and all were evacuated to safety.

Videos circulating on social media allegedly show soldiers and their families being transported in various vehicles. Shwe Phee Myay News Agency, an online news site reporting from Shan State, reported that many of them were taken to Lashio, the capital of the northern Shan region, under an agreement with the MNDAA to their repatriation.

It is unclear whether the Three Brothers Alliance will try to extend its offensive outside of Shan State, but it has vowed to continue fighting the military government.

The alliance presented its offensive as a fight against the military regime and an effort to rid the region of major organized criminal enterprises. China has publicly sought to root out cyber scam operations in Laukkaing that have ensnared tens of thousands of Chinese citizens, who have been repatriated to China in recent weeks.

But the offensive was also widely recognized as an effort by the MNDAA to regain control of the Kokang Self-Administered Zone by expelling a rival Kokang group backed by the military government from its seat of power.

Peng Deren, the commander of the MNDAA, said in a New Year’s speech published by The Kokang, an affiliated online media site, that the alliance had seized more than 250 military targets and five border crossings with China. He said more than 300 cyber scam centers were raided and more than 40,000 Chinese involved in the operations were repatriated.

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