YANGON: Myanmar says at least 30 people were killed in fighting triggered by a pre-dawn attack by an ethnic rebel group in the country's northeast bordering China.
The office of the country's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, blamed the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army for the Monday morning attack, which it said killed five civilians and five police officers. It said the bodies of 20 other people were found after the fighting in the town of Laukkai in northern Shan state. It was not clear if the 20 were among the estimated 50 attackers. Gruesome photos of some of the dead and wounded were posted along with the statement on Suu Kyi's official Facebook page.
The statement said the attackers destroyed a hotel, burned cars and carried out robberies. It said the military has been trying to clear the rebel group from the town and will continue operations in the region against the rebel group.
The fighting was the most dramatic recent violence in the area, where the government and rebels have been contending for territory. Similar fighting has been taking place further north in Kachin state involving other ethnic rebel groups. The rebels say they are countering attacks by the government.
The fighting has not received as much publicity as the government's activities in the western state of Rakhine, where troops have been accused of carrying out widespread abuses of the Muslim ethnic Rohingya minority in what it has characterised as a counter-insurgency operation.
However, the much greater strength of the rebels in Shan and Kachin states threatens to undermine Suu Kyi's efforts to reach a comprehensive peace with the more than a dozen ethnic rebel groups who have been seeking greater autonomy for decades. She is scheduled to hold a meeting with many of the groups at the end of this month.
Fierce fighting between the government and the rebel group, which represents the Kokang, an ethnic Chinese minority, last occurred in 2015, sending tens of thousands of civilians fleeing across the border to China.
The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army is led by ethnic Chinese Peng Jiasheng, who once was chief of the officially sanctioned Kokang administrative zone but was ousted from power in 2009. The rebel army was formed from the remnants of the Communist Party of Burma, a once-powerful Chinese-backed guerrilla force that fought against the government in the 1960s and 1970s.