A prominent ethnic armed group in Myanmar said it had captured a military base near the Thai border on Tuesday, as clashes escalated days after the junta chief committed to immediately end violence in the country.
The military staged airstrikes several hours later on villages in territory controlled by the group.
The junta has launched brutal crackdowns against civilians in an attempt to suppress the opposition it faces from the public. Some of Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups, which have spent decades fighting the military for greater autonomy, have voiced support for anti-coup protesters.
The Karen National Union, which is fighting the military near Myanmar’s eastern border, said on Tuesday morning it had occupied and burned down an army outpost.
The group’s head of foreign affairs, Padoh Saw Taw Nee, told Reuters the group was still determining deaths and casualties. The spokesman said there had been fighting in other locations, too, but did not give details.
Video footage of the clashes showed fire and smoke rising from the hills, as shots were heard in the distance.
Sithichai Jindaluang, the governor of Thailand’s Mae Hong Son province, confirmed at a news conference that Karen guerrillas had overrun the base and said a woman on Thai soil was wounded by a stray bullet during the morning’s fighting. He said about 450 villagers have been evacuated from Mae Sam Lap for their own safety.
Local people told Agence France-Presse many villagers had fled their homes, fearing the military would launch a harsh crackdown in retaliation.
“Nobody dares to stay … they ran early this morning already when the fire fighting started,” Hkara, who is ethnic Karen and has only one name, said from Mae Sam Laep inside the Thai border.
Over recent weeks, intensified violence, including airstrikes, has forced more than 24,000 people to flee their homes in the border region, according to the aid group Free Burma Rangers.
Dave Eubank of the Free Burma Rangers said he could confirm that there had been airstrikes on Karen villages in two townships in Papun district. He said Myanmar’s army was also staging ground attacks in the area.
The latest clashes comes days after the head of Myanmar’s junta, Min Aung Hlaing, attended a regional summit in Jakarta, where he agreed to end violence and enter dialogue.
The meeting by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) marked the first concerted international effort to find a resolution to the crisis in Myanmar, though rights groups pointed out that its concluding statement lacked specifics and made no mention of freeing political prisoners.
More than 750 people have been killed by security forces, including dozens of children, since the coup on 1 February, while 3,441 have been detained, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma.
On Tuesday, the military appeared to backtrack from the statement it had agreed to at the Asean meeting. A report by the junta-controlled Global New Light of Myanmar, said Myanmar had informed the meeting it would carefully consider suggestions made by regional leaders “when the situation returns to stability”, adding that its priority was to maintain law and order.
Killings and detentions have continued in recent days. On Monday, a man was shot dead by troops on Monday night in Mandalay, while a woman was also killed in Dawei, according to reports by independent local media.
Dozens of people have been taken from their homes by the security forces, which have continued to inflict terror through night-time raids.