BANGKOK (AP) — An alliance of armed ethnic minority groups that launched a surprise offensive last month against Myanmar’s military has seized a major trading gate on the country’s northeastern border with China, a spokesperson for one of the groups said Sunday.
Le Kyar Win, the spokesperson of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, told The Associated Press that the Kyin-San-Kyawt border gate, one of the five major trading gates in Muse township along the Myanmar-China border in northern Shan state, was seized on Saturday by the alliance forces.
Muse hosts the 105-Mile Trade Zone and has the greatest volume of trade with China. It is the fourth border crossing seized by the alliance forces in a month of intense fighting.
“We attacked the places controlled by the junta as our military targets,” Le Kyar Win said.
Social media sites associated with the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army displayed photos and video of what they said were its forces at the border gate. The claims couldn’t immediately be verified.
The military government hasn’t publicly acknowledged the capture of the gate.
Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, spokesperson of the ruling military council, said in a statement phoned in to state television MRTV that there was fighting between the army and alliance groups near the 105-Mile Trade Zone, but didn’t give additional information.
Kyin-San-Kyawt is the second of five border gates in Muse township that has come under the control of the alliance, along with two others elsewhere.
Fighting has been raging in the region since the Arakan Army, the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, calling themselves the Three Brotherhood Alliance, launched a coordinated offensive on Oct. 27.
The government had acknowledged losing at least three towns, and the fighting appears to have stopped almost all legal cross-border trade with China, a major economic disruption for Myanmar.
It also has put pressure on the military government in its struggle against the armed pro-democracy forces that are challenging it in other parts of the country, where new attacks were carried out in the wake of the Oct. 27 offensive. The pro-democracy group arose in opposition to the army’s February 2021 seizure of power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
The reported seizure of the Kyin-San-Kyawt border gate came the same day that China announced it would begin military exercises nearby on its side on the border. China exercises great influence in northern Shan state, especially where it is dominated by Myanmar’s Kokang minority, who are ethnic Chinese.
The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army is an armed Kokang group, and it seeks to oust a rival faction from power by seizing the town of Laukkaing, which is the capital of what is officially called the Kokang Self-Administered Zone.
Laukkaing is notorious for hosting major organized criminal enterprises including cyberscam operations controlled by Chinese investors in collusion with local Myanmar warlords.
Beijing is embarrassed by the large-scale criminality and has vowed to eradicate it. The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army has made common cause with Beijing by declaring elimination of the cyberscam operations to be one of its goals.
With the alliance forces beseiging Laukkaing, China has urged it nationals to depart for safety back to Chinese territory. But others in the town are also seeking to flee, which was the apparent cause of a violent confrontation on Saturday.
Residents of the area confirmed what was shown on videos widely circulated on social media — that Chinese police fired tear gas to drive away people who were sheltering close to the border fence on the eastern side of Laukkaing.