Myanmar anti-coup fighters were battling the military for control of a state capital, both sides said on Tuesday.
Clashes across Myanmar have entered a fourth week, sparked by a surprise offensive against the military by an alliance of ethnic minorities along a swathe of territory near the China border.
The offensive has galvanized other opponents of the military, with clashes spreading to the east and west in what analysts say is the biggest challenge to the junta since it seized power in 2021.
Karenni Nationalities Defence Force (KNDF) and ethnic minority Karenni Army (KA) fighters were in “very intense fighting” with the military in Loikaw town, KNDF chairman Khun Bedu told AFP.
KNDF, KA, and “People’s Defence Force” fighters were “in control in many areas,” he said, without giving details.
He said the military was fighting from positions at the main police station and other government buildings.
Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said anti-coup fighters had attacked Loikaw prison on Tuesday, without giving details.
Loikaw is normally home to around 50,000 people.
The United Nations has evacuated most of its staff from Loikaw due to “aerial bombardment of the town and active fighting in urban areas,” a spokesperson told AFP on Tuesday.
They did not say when the evacuations had taken place or how many staff had left.
The “National Unity Government” dominated by lawmakers ousted in the military’s 2021 coup said that a total of 228 people — UN and other NGO staff and their families — had been evacuated.
Anti-coup fighters also launched drone attacks on two airports in northern Sagaing region, hundreds of kilometers from Kayah, junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said.
He did not say whether the attacks had caused casualties or damage.
Fighting has raged since October 27 after the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and Arakan Army (AA) launched attacks on the military near the northern border with China.
Last week the AA launched fresh attacks on the military in western Rakhine state.
Access to the affected areas is impossible while fighting rages, making it difficult to confirm casualty tolls from the various clashes.
At least 75 civilians including children have been killed and 94 people wounded in the fighting, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, citing initial reports.