An alliance of ethnic minority insurgents allied with a pro-democracy parallel civilian government launched an offensive late last month in the biggest challenge to the ruling military since it seized power from elected leaders in a 2021 coup.
Hundreds of foreigners, most from neighbouring countries, have been trapped by the fighting, particularly in Shan State on the northeastern border with China and Kayah State, on the eastern border with Thailand.
China said on Monday it was helping foreigners to get out of Myanmar and it told its nationals to relocate from areas of conflict.
Myanmar’s civilian government-in-exile said anti-junta forces in Kayah State had paused their offensive to allow 228 aid workers, including UN staff, to be leave Loikaw, the state capital, after fighting there.
“While UN and NGO staff and family members were able to leave safely, many people remain trapped inside Loikaw,” the National Unity Government, said in a statement, posted on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
It said the aid workers had been taken to the town of Taunggyi in Shan State, which is under junta control.
A junta spokesman was not immediately available for comment. UN agencies in Myanmar could not be immediately reached for comment.
More than 250 Thais, six Filipinos and a Singaporean arrived in Thailand on the weekend after being evacuated from northern Myanmar via China, the Thai foreign ministry said.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told a regular press briefing in Beijing that China was helping other countries get their people out.
“Recently, some countries have asked China for assistance. From a humanitarian point of view, we have provided convenience for their citizens in northern Myanmar to evacuate through China,” Mao said.
China, which has extensive economic interests in Myanmar, also urged “the relevant parties to put the interests of the people first, cease fire and end war as soon as possible, resolve differences through dialogue and consultation and avoid escalation”, Mao said.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted a government led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in the 2021 coup, ending a decade of tentative democratic reform and triggering widespread protests.
In various parts of the country, democracy activists have taken up arms alongside ethnic minority insurgents who have been battling for self-determination for decades.
One of the group that launched the latest offensive, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), reported heavy clashes in Shan State on the weekend and said some of its fighters had been affected when junta forces used “gas bombs containing an internationally banned chemical weapon”.
It said its fighters had been given medical treatment but provided no evidence to back up its accusation.
A junta spokesperson confirmed the fighting with the TNLA and dismissed their accusation of poisonous gas.
“They attacked and the military responded. TNLA experienced many losses and as usual, they started the regular accusations of us using toxic gas etc.,” said the spokesperson, Zaw Min Tun.
The junta has acknowledged it is facing “heavy assaults” from the insurgent groups and ordered all government staff and those with military experience in the capital to prepare to serve in case of emergency.