By Agence France-Presse
Several women were among those killed in Myanmar’s restive eastern region in renewed clashes between the army and an ethnic rebel group, with both sides providing conflicting accounts of the battle.
Fighting broke out on July 11 between soldiers and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) insurgents near Awelaw village in remote Shan state near the Chinese border, both sides confirmed.
The military announced Friday that eight people, mostly women, were killed in the clashes.
“Among the TNLA insurgents, the bodies of three men and five women in camouflage uniforms were seized,” the post on the Commander-in-Chief’s Facebook page stated.
A different account of the clashes released on Monday by the TNLA, however, described how six women medics were arrested after an ambush by troops before being “killed brutally”.
The area, in Myanmar’s restive eastern frontier, is off-limits making it difficult to verify either side’s claims.
In recent years, women have been swelling the ranks of some rebel groups with frequent posts on Facebook of armed female insurgents in jungle training.
The rebellion in the northeast — completely separate from the Rohingya crisis in the west — has been festering for decades.
It is just one of some two dozen conflicts plaguing more than a third of the country since independence in 1948, according to a 2017 Asia Foundation report.
Civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has made it a priority to end the unrest by trying to bring the rebel groups to the negotiating table.
So far 10 organizations have signed up to a ceasefire agreement but at least seven, including some of the largest and most influential, are holding out.
Meanwhile, fighting still continues between the myriad factions, splinter outfits and the military, displacing tens of thousands of civilians across the country’s borderlands.
A third annual peace conference ended on Monday after six days with little progress made and the military placing full responsibility for the ongoing fighting on the ethnic rebel groups.
“If their people have no discipline, problems can happen,” army appointee and defense minister Sein Win told AFP.
Suu Kyi has no control over security policy, with the military retaining key government posts in the delicate power-sharing arrangement.
The latest incident followed clashes in May between the TNLA and the army which saw 19 people, mostly civilians, killed in the town of Muse on the Chinese border — some of the worst bloodshed in the region for several years.