‘Rebels getting outside help’

The nation’s junta chief said “foreign experts” were helping ethnic minority armed groups in their widespread offensive against the military along the northern border with China.

Clashes have raged across Myanmar’s northern Shan State after an armed alliance of three ethnic minority groups launched surprise attacks against the military in October.

The groups have seized dozens of military positions and a town important for trade with China, in what analysts say is the biggest military challenge to the junta since it seized power in 2021.

Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing said “foreign drone experts” had been involved in attacks on military outposts last month in northern Shan State, according to a junta statement on Wednesday.

Ethnic minority rebels had been using “drones with advanced technology” to attack junta positions, without elaborating.

He did not specify which country the “foreign experts” were from.

The military had withdrawn from some positions in the face of attacks by the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), a member of the alliance, which used drones to drop bombs, he said, without giving details.

On Nov 6 the brigadier-general of a light infantry battalion was killed in Monekoe near the China border in a blast from a bomb dropped by a drone, a military source said.

Beijing is a major arms supplier and ally of the junta but ties have been strained in recent weeks over the junta’s failure to crack down on online scam compounds that Beijing says target Chinese citizens.

Earlier this month protesters gathered at a rare demonstration in Yangon to accuse China of backing the ethnic minority alliance, in what analysts say was a move sanctioned by junta authorities.

Beijing has expressed “strong dissatisfaction” over the clashes in northern Shan State, home to oil and gas pipelines that supply China and a planned billion-dollar railway link.

Since deposing the democratic government in 2021, the military has struggled to quell armed resistance from civilian anti-junta “People’s Defence Forces”.

But the new offensive – which has seized towns and blocked vital trade routes to key junta backer China – poses the biggest threat yet to the generals, analysts say.

Almost 200 civilians, including children, have been killed and nearly 335,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since the offensive began on Oct 27, according to the United Nations. — AFP

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