Myanmar ethnic armed groups seized a handful of outposts on Saturday as they pressed their offensive against the junta in the north of the country, local media reports said.
Fighting has ramped up across vast swaths of Shan state near the Chinese border this week, forcing more than 23,000 people from their homes, according to the UN.
The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and the Arakan Army (AA) say they have captured dozens of outposts and four towns and blocked vital trade routes to China.
Local media reports said TNLA fighters on Saturday seized two outposts controlled by pro-military militia near Lashio, the largest town in northern Shan state and home to the military’s northeastern command.
The TNLA also flagged gains about four hours away at Namhkam.
“We seized four outposts in total this morning, two outposts from Lashio while the other two were from Namhkam,” a TNLA member told AFP.
The MNDAA said it had seized three military outposts further to the east.
The junta has not commented on Saturday’s clashes but on Thursday a spokesman dismissed as “propaganda” claims that the allied ethnic armed groups had captured several towns in Shan state.
The junta on Saturday said the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), another ethnic armed group based in neighboring Kachin state, had joined the attacks on its forces and that it would retaliate.
Local media reported the junta had shelled the remote town of Laiza on the Chinese border, home to the KIA’s headquarters.
Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing this week vowed the military “will launch counter-attacks” against the groups.
On the other side of the border, a team of AFP journalists was stopped Saturday in China’s Yunnan province at a permanent police checkpoint about 50 kilometers (30 miles) up the valley from the border crossing of Chinshwehaw town, which the Myanmar military said on Wednesday that it had lost control over.
Chinese policemen said only people living beyond the checkpoint or others who had gained special authorization could currently pass due to ongoing clashes across the border.
“We’re now in special circumstances,” an officer told AFP. “Unless necessary, no one can go in.”
China called on Thursday for an immediate ceasefire in Shan state — where a billion-dollar rail route, part of Beijing’s Belt and Road infrastructure project, is planned.
Myanmar’s borderlands are home to more than a dozen ethnic armed groups, some of which have fought the military for decades over autonomy and control of lucrative resources.
There are also turf wars with pro-military aligned militia over criminal enterprises ranging from drug smuggling and casinos to prostitution and cyber scams.
The AA, MNDAA, and TNLA say the military has suffered dozens killed, wounded, and captured since Friday.
The remoteness of the rugged jungle terrain — home to pipelines that supply oil and gas to China — and patchy communications make it difficult to verify fatalities in the fighting.