According to a guerrilla spokesman, a senior Thai official and aide, the Myanmar military carried out airstrikes a few hours later on villages in Karen-controlled territory.
The fighting took place three days after a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders to try to draw up a plan to restore peace in Myanmar, where the military government tried to suppress widespread opposition to its rule by using deadly force. According to several detailed estimates, security forces killed more than 700 protesters and passers-by. The junta’s figure is about one-third of that.
A spokesman for the National Union, Karen, a major minority political group seeking greater autonomy from Myanmar’s central government, said its armed wing attacked the base at 5 a.m. and burned it shortly after dawn.
The numbers of the victims were not yet known, KNU Foreign Minister Padoh Saw Taw Nee said in an SMS message. There was no direct comment from the Myanmar military government.
The KNU, which controls territory in eastern Myanmar near the Thai border, is a close ally of the resistance movement against the military coup that toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. His armed wing is called the Karen National Liberation Army.
A video taken from the Thai side of the border showed flames rising from a government position on the banks of the Salween River amid the sound of heavy gunfire. The river marks the border with Thailand.
Padoh Man Man of the 5th KNLA Brigade, which launched the morning attack, said the Myanmar army carried out airstrikes in the early afternoon, but that he did not know how many casualties there were. He described the airstrikes as a “heinous war crime” and called on the international community to put pressure on the junta to stop them.
Sithichai Jindaluang, the governor of the Thai province of Mae Hong Son, confirmed at a press conference that Karen’s guerrillas had run over a base in Myanmar and said that a woman on Thai soil was wounded by a stray bullet. He said about 450 villagers had been evacuated from Mae Sam Lap for their own safety.
Sithichai also said that a Myanmar military plane later bombed the village of Karen.
Dave Eubank of the Free Burma Rangers, a humanitarian aid group with extensive experience in the area, said he could confirm that there had been airstrikes on Karen villages in Papun County. He said that five bombs were dropped, but that there were no casualties. The Myanmar military has also carried out ground attacks in the area, Eubank said.
Fighting between the armed wing of the KNU and the Myanmar army has been fierce since February.
Myanmar jets have been bombing and attacking Karen villages since March 27, and his army has deployed new battalions to the area, as a possible preparation for a large-scale offensive.
According to Eubank, up to 25,000 villagers have fled their homes and are hiding in jungles and caves.
In response, the KNLA continued guerrilla attacks on Myanmar patrols and bases. The KNU also provided shelter to anti-military activists who had fled the government’s crackdown on resistance in the cities.
The situation is similar in northern Myanmar, where the Kachin minority says it has occupied several government outposts and has been the target of airstrikes.
Karen and Kachin are two of the larger minority groups that have been seeking greater autonomy for decades, during which there are periods of armed conflict interrupted by a ceasefire.
The city’s resistance movement against the ruling junta courted ethnic guerrilla groups in hopes of forming a federal army as a counterweight to the government’s armed forces. A parallel government of national unity set up by elected legislators prevented by the military from taking their seats has appointed representatives of several minority groups to ministerial posts.
On Tuesday, a flash of anti-military protesters stormed the area of Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, for the second day in a row showing the passing but relentless defiance of the ruling junta.
Such open protests have become less frequent since the brutal crackdown on security forces began, but activity has intensified following Saturday’s meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, attended by General Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing.
The meeting sparked continued optimism after it issued a statement reporting on a “five-point consensus” on the Myanmar crisis. He called for an immediate end to the violence, dialogue between all stakeholders, mediation in the dialogue process by the ASEAN Special Envoy, the provision of humanitarian assistance through ASEAN channels and a visit by the Special Envoy to Myanmar to meet with all stakeholders.
However, the junta’s statement on the meeting, published on Tuesday in the state newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar, did not mention a consensus statement. She stressed that Myanmar would “carefully consider the constructive proposals of ASEAN leaders when the situation returns to stability in the country, as the current priorities are maintaining law and order and restoring peace and tranquility in the community.”