Prominent ethnic insurgent group captures and burns down army base in eastern Karen state followed by military's air strikes.

Demonstrators carry flags as they march to protest against the military coup, in Dawei, Myanmar on April 27, 2021.
Demonstrators carry flags as they march to protest against the military coup, in Dawei, Myanmar on April 27, 2021. (DAWEI WATCH / Reuters)

A prominent ethnic rebel group has attacked and captured a military base in eastern Myanmar near the Thai border, a group leader said.

Fighting broke out on Tuesday in Karen state near the Salween River, which demarcates part of the border, with residents on the Thai side reporting hearing gunfire and explosions coming from inside Myanmar.

"Our troops captured the Burmese military camp," Karen National Union (KNU) head of foreign affairs Padoh Saw Taw Nee told AFP news agency, adding that the fighting took around 5 am.

"We could hear from the other side, we could hear the bullets," said Hkara, a long-time resident of Mae Sam Laep inside the Thai border, who is ethnic Karen and only has one name.

"We saw five or six Burmese soldiers run down to the river and then we saw KNU shoot them but it was very dark."

Myanmar’s military staged air strikes several hours later on villages in territory controlled by the Karen rebels, said a guerrilla spokesman, a senior Thai official and a relief worker.

Casualty figures were not yet known. There was no immediate comment from Myanmar's military rulers.

Turmoil since February 

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a February 1 coup, triggering an uprising that has seen security forces mount deadly crackdowns against protesters.

The anti-coup movement has garnered broad support across the country, including among some of Myanmar's armed insurgent groups which have for decades been fighting the military for more autonomy.

One of the most vocal opponents, KNU, has clashed with the military in their territory along Myanmar's eastern border for weeks.

The KNU agreed to a ceasefire in 2012, ending their insurgency for autonomy that began shortly after Myanmar's independence from Britain in 1948.

But their forces have clashed with the army since it seized power and cut short a decade of democratic reforms that had also brought relative peace to Myanmar's volatile borderlands.

READ MORE: UN: Full-blown conflict similar to Syria war feared in Myanmar

Sheltering anti-coup dissidents

Last month, after the KNU overran a military base, the junta responded with multiple air strikes at night, the first use of air offensives in Karen state in over 20 years.

Some villagers had already left their homes for other towns in fear of retaliation from the Myanmar military, Hkara said.

"Nobody dares to stay... they ran early this morning already when the fire fighting started," she told AFP.

Clashes have intensified in the Karen state in recent weeks, displacing more than 24,000 civilians, including some 2,000 who crossed the river to seek brief refuge on the Thai side.

The KNU has vocally condemned the military putsch and has said they are sheltering at least 2,000 anti-coup dissidents who fled urban centers of unrest.

Security forces have killed more than 750 civilians since February 1, according to a local monitoring group tracking the death toll.

The junta has a much lower figure and blames the violence on "rioters".

READ MORE: UN says nearly quarter million displaced after Myanmar coup

Junta's ASEAN response

There have been relatively few reports of bloodshed since the weekend meeting between junta leader Min Aung Hlaing and Southeast Asian leaders to try to find a way out of the crisis.

The junta, in its first official comment on the meeting, said it would give "careful consideration to constructive suggestions".

"The suggestions would be positively considered if it ... serves the interests of the country and was based on purposes and principles enshrined in" ASEAN, it said in a statement published on Tuesday.

The junta did not refer to one of ASEAN's long-cherished principles of non-interference in each other's affairs.

After the weekend meeting, ASEAN issued a so-called five-point consensus on steps to end the violence and initiate talks between the Myanmar rivals.

Activists have criticised the plan saying it helped to legitimise the junta and fell far short of their demands.

READ MORE: Myanmar activists call for new non-cooperation campaign after ASEAN meeting

Source: TRTWorld and agencies