According to a spokesman for the ethnic rebel group and media sources, Myanmar’s military launched air strikes on ethnic rebels in Karen state on Sunday, as new combat erupted for control of the town of Lay Kay Kaw near the Thai border.

Thousands of inhabitants in Lay Kay Kaw, which is just around 20 kilometers from the Thai border, had fled fighting in December near the town, which has served as a haven for pro-democracy activists since the army seized power last year.

After Sunday’s clashes, a spokesman for Myanmar’s oldest ethnic rebel organization, the Karen National Union (KNU), said the army appeared to be reinforcing the region, though he had not yet heard indications of new fighting on Monday.

“They haven’t backed down at all. “They’re sending more troops,” KNU spokesman Padoh Saw Taw Nee said, adding that in Sunday’s fighting, the group’s forces killed 45 soldiers and lost two of its own fighters. During the combat, the rebels detained a captain from the Myanmar army, according to Public Voice Television, which has been sponsored by a shadow government set up since the coup.

Reuters was unable to independently verify the accusations, and a military official did not return calls seeking comment. The KNU has mostly controlled Lay Kay Kaw in recent months, but the army has attempted to regain control at times, and fighting erupted last December when forces attempted to arrest residents in the town.

The skirmishes on Sunday occurred after the KNU attempted to drive army personnel out of one district, according to Padoh Saw Taw Nee.
According to the rebels and local media accounts, Myanmar’s military responded by conducting air attacks. Residents in Mae Sot, a Thai border town, reported hearing gunfire and what appeared to be explosions.

The KNU had requested that the international community establish a no-fly zone in the area to protect civilians in December.
Myanmar has been in chaos since the army deposed a civilian administration led by Aung San Suu Kyi last year, leading to a brutal crackdown on protesters by security forces and the rise of anti-junta militias that are sometimes aligned with ethnic insurgents.

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