2/2 © Reuters. ASEAN Leaders Summit in Jakarta 2/2
(Reuters) – Insurgents from the Karen ethnic minority attacked a Myanmar army outpost near the Thai border on Tuesday in some of the most intense clashes since a military coup nearly three months ago plunged the country into crisis. . The Karen National Union (KNU), Myanmar’s oldest rebel force, said it had captured the army camp on the western bank of the Salween River, which forms the border with Thailand. The Myanmar military subsequently responded to the insurgents with airstrikes, Thai and KNU authorities said. The fighting took place when the board, in a setback to the diplomatic efforts of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said it would consider the bloc’s suggestions to end the unrest in Myanmar “positively”, but only when restore stability. ASEAN leaders said after meeting over the weekend that they had reached consensus with the board on measures to end the violence and promote dialogue between Myanmar’s rival parties. The outbreak of hostilities in the border area diverted the focus of the opposition to the junta from the pro-democracy protests that have taken place in cities and towns across the country since the February 1 coup. The army overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, detained her and other civilian politicians, and then cracked down on anti-coup protesters with lethal force. Security forces have killed more than 750 civilians in the demonstrations, says an activist group. The Karen and other ethnic minority forces based in the border regions have supported the largely urban opponents of the junta’s pro-democracy. BEFORE DAWN ATTACK In Tuesday’s fighting, villagers on the Thai side of the river said the intense gunfire started before dawn. Video posted on social media showed flames and smoke on the forested hillside and KNU forces had captured the outpost, the group’s foreign affairs chief Saw Taw Nee told Reuters. Later, the Myanmar military mounted airstrikes, Saw Taw Nee said. There was no word on the victims and 450 Thai villagers were transferred from the border to safety, the Thai military said. The Myanmar military did not comment. Historically it has been presented as the only institution that can hold together the ethnically diverse country of more than 53 million people. The KNU agreed to a ceasefire in 2012, ending its struggle for autonomy that began shortly after Myanmar’s independence from Great Britain in 1948. But its forces have clashed with the army since it took power, ending to a decade of democratic reforms that had also brought relative peace. to the border areas of Myanmar. Clashes have also broken out in the north and west, where the Irrawaddy news site reported that 13 government soldiers were killed in clashes in Chin state in recent days. Some 24,000 people are taking refuge in the jungle after being displaced in recent weeks by violence near the Thai border, including military airstrikes, Karen groups say. ‘CAREFUL CONSIDERATION’ Elsewhere in Myanmar, there have been few reports of bloodshed since the weekend meeting between the chief of the board, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and Southeast Asian leaders to try to find a way out to the crisis. The board, in its first official comment on the meeting, said it would give “careful consideration to constructive suggestions … when the situation returns to stability.” The suggestions would be “considered positively” if they facilitate the board’s own “roadmap” and “serve the interests of the country,” he said in a statement. The board did not refer to what ASEAN called a five-point consensus, issued at the end of the meeting, to end the violence and start talks between Myanmar’s rivals. ASEAN’s points included the appointment of an envoy to visit Myanmar to talk with all parties. But Min Aung Hlaing, in comments published in state media, said: “The visits to Myanmar proposed by ASEAN will be considered after stabilizing the country.” Activists have criticized the plan, saying it helped legitimize the junta and did not comply with their demands. In particular, he did not call for the release of 75-year-old Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. The advocacy group the Political Prisoner Assistance Association says more than 3,400 people have been detained for opposing the coup. Suu Kyi’s party won a second term in November. The electoral commission said the vote was fair, but the army said fraud at the polls had forced it to take power. Anti-junta protesters demonstrated in various locations on Tuesday, including the main city of Yangon, where hundreds staged a “lightning” march down a street chanting slogans and holding banners, pictures showed on social media.