Rebels take key Myanmar city after government troops lay down weapons

An alliance of rebel groups in Myanmar has taken control of a key city in the north of the country after government forces reportedly laid down their weapons and withdrew.

The Three Brotherhood Alliance took control of the city of Laukkaing, located on the border with China, late on Thursday.

Around 1,000 government troops put down their arms and were allowed to leave, according to local people and independent media accounts.

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It is the latest success for the alliance and the biggest in a series of defeats suffered by the government since rebels launched an offensive in October.

The alliance is made up of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and the Arakan Army.

It is one of the threats faced by Myanmar’s military government which is fighting pro-democracy guerrillas and other ethnic minority armed groups across the country.

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Armed ethnic groups have fought for greater autonomy on and off for decades, but the country has been in quasi-civil war since the army seized power in February 2021 from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, sparking nationwide armed resistance by pro-democracy forces.

When the alliance launched its offensive, it said it had two purposes – to rid the country of both military rule, or what it called “dictatorship” and destroy the large-scale cyber scam operations run by local warlords, with Chinese backing, especially in Laukkaing.

China has publicly sought to eradicate the criminal industry and tens of thousands of people involved have been repatriated to China in recent weeks.

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On Thursday, the regional military command headquarters based in Laukkaing, which had been under virtual siege for months, gave up.

Most of the seven army battalions believed to have been under its command, had collapsed in fighting in recent weeks.

A Laukkaing resident who lives nearby told The Associated Press the headquarters had fallen into MNDAA hands after the soldiers stationed there laid down their weapons.

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Speaking on the condition of anonymity, he said its soldiers in the city had already surrendered and been allowed to leave the city on military trucks since Thursday evening.

Independent online Myanmar news outlets, including Khit Thit Media and Myanmar Now, reported similar details.

Laukkaing is the capital of Kokang Self-Administered Zone, geographically part of northern Shan state.

The MNDAA is a military force of the Kokang minority, who are ethnic Chinese.

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Peng Deren, the MNDAA commander, said in a New Year’s speech published by The Kokang, an affiliated online media site, that the alliance had seized more than 250 military targets, five border crossings with China and arrested about 1,000 prisoners of war.

He said more than 300 cyber scam centres were raided and more than 40,000 Chinese involved in cyber crimes were repatriated to their country.

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