Updated: Aug. 15, 2019, 6:03 p.m.
Aung Lwin Oo contributed to this report, which originated in VOA's Burmese Service.
YANGON, MYANMAR — Ethnic rebel forces in Myanmar killed at least 14 people Thursday in what appeared to be coordinated attacks on an elite military college and other government targets in the country's north, according to a military spokesman.
The armed groups have been fighting Myanmar's military for several decades for greater autonomy for ethnic minorities. The confederation of ethnic forces, known as the Northern Alliance, claimed credit for the attacks. A statement from the military said the attackers used 107 mm rocket launchers in two of the five assaults.
Maung Maung Soe, an ethnic affairs analyst, told VOA's Burmese Service, "The attack[s] today didn't aim at a single target … it's more like a [coordinated] operation. I think more fighting could follow not just from the Northern Alliance, but the army as well, which would retaliate against the attacks on a major road and urban area. So, fighting could escalate."
Ta Aik Kyaw, spokesperson for the Palaung/Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), told VOA Burmese that "fighting this morning took place around five locations, with two in Pyin Oo Lwin and three in Naung Cho. … Three members of our alliance MNDAA [the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army], AA [the Arakan Army] and we, the TNLA, joined the fight."
They attacked the prestigious Defense Services Technological Academy in Pyin Oo Lwin, the Naung Cho anti-narcotics toll-gate and check point, the Gote Twin police station, and the Gote Twin Bridge, he said.
The attacks ostensibly were retaliation for a recent military offensive in the Northern Alliance area, even though a unilateral cease-fire between the group and the military is in effect until the end of August, he added.
Military spokesperson Brigadier Zaw Min Tun told VOA Burmese the attacks were a response to several successful raids by the military against illicit drug operations overseen by Northern Alliance members.
Two soldiers were killed at the narcotics checkpoint, three died at the police post and "at least five soldiers also were killed after they reinforced [the post]," according to the brigadier.
At least a dozen civilians were killed in this morning's attack, according to local relief volunteers.
Military forces have launched operations against the TNLA and its affiliates in the Shan State area, which has long been a center of conflict. In the past, it was known for heroin production. Today, methamphetamine tablets and high-quality crystal meth generate significant income.
According to the Crisis Group, the drug production in the region benefits from "a good infrastructure, proximity to precursor supplies from China, and safe havens," which are provided by pro-government militias and armed ethnic groups.