BANGKOK: Ethnic Karen guerillas said they captured a Myanmar army base on Tuesday near the border with Thailand, representing a morale-boosting action for those opposing the military’s takeover of the country’s civilian government in February.
Myanmar’s military staged air strikes several hours later on villages in territory controlled by the Karen forces, said a guerilla spokesman, a senior Thai official and a relief worker.
A spokesman for the Karen National Union, the minority’s main political group seeking greater autonomy from Myanmar’s central government, said its armed wing attacked the base at 5am and burned it down just after dawn.
Casualty figures were not yet known, the KNUs head of foreign affairs, Padoh Saw Taw Nee, said in a text message. There was no immediate comment from Myanmar’s 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 takeover that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. Its armed wing is called the Karen National Liberation Army.
Video shot from the Thai side of the border showed flames rising from the government position on the banks of the Salween River, amid the sound of heavy gunfire. The river marks the border with Thailand.
A report by the Karen Information Centre, an online news site, quoted an unnamed villager on the Thai side of the river saying he saw seven government soldiers trying to flee the camp, which is opposite Thailand’s Mae Sam Laep village.
Padoh Man Man of the KNLAs 5th Brigade, which launched the morning’s attack, said Myanmar’s military carried out air strikes in the early afternoon, but he did not know how many casualties there were. He described the air raids as a heinous war crime and called for the international community to pressure the junta to stop them.
Sithichai Jindaluang, the governor of Thailand’s Mae Hong Son province, confirmed at a news conference that Karen guerillas had overrun the Myanmar 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.