At least 19 people were killed on Saturday by ethnic insurgents in Myanmar in a major attack near the main border with China, and four members of the security forces were among the dead, a government spokesman said.
Zaw Htay, the spokesman, said around 100 insurgents had attacked at about 5 a.m. using small arms and artillery, and had been repelled by armed police officers and members of a government-backed militia he called “paramilitaries.”
Fifteen civilians, including two women, were killed, and 20 others were injured, he said, citing information from the police. A police officer and three militiamen were also killed in the clash, Zaw Htay said. An unknown number of Chinese and Myanmar nationals had fled into China, he added.
“Now the Myanmar military is attacking and following them,” he said. “They ran away after attacking the civilian targets. This is not an ethnic rights movement; this is a terrorist attack.”
A spokesman for the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, or T.N.L.A., made up of fighters from the Ta’ang or Palaung ethnic group, said the group had attacked a casino run by militiamen and a Myanmar Army post on the outskirts of border town of Muse, several hundred yards from a river that divides Myanmar’s northern Shan State and China’s Yunnan Province.
The conflict in the north of Myanmar has escalated over the past month as Myanmar’s military has clashed frequently with several groups who say they are fighting for greater autonomy for ethnic minorities in the area, through which much of Myanmar’s foreign trade flows.
The latest attack was a setback for the country’s civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, whose stated priority amid a stuttering transition from full military rule has been to usher in peace.
L Soe Htan Tu, a spokesman for the government in Muse, confirmed that at least 20 people had been taken to Muse’s main hospital with serious injuries.
Col. Tar Aik Kyaw, the spokesman for the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, said the attack had targeted soldiers and the militiamen who ran the casino, but conceded that civilians could have been caught in cross fire.
“The militia are protecting the casinos — those casinos are the gateway for distributing drugs,” he said. “Many civilians, they go to the casinos and it causes many social problems, so we launched a major assault.”
The assault was in retaliation for recent attacks on T.N.L.A. outposts and for a military push in Kachin State to the