A dozen Myanmarese soldiers and three militants died in fresh fighting when Myanmar launched a massive military crackdown to evict anti-India rebels from its soil, a rebel leader said on Monday.
A spokesman of the SS Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) said Myanmar's military junta had burnt down the outfit's general headquarters and two other camps in that country's northern Sagaing Division.
"Heavy fighting is going on with a brigade (3,000 personnel) of the Myanmarese army with mortars and rocket launchers in a massive assault on our cadres since the weekend," AZ Jami, a senior NSCN-K leader, told the agency by telephone.
The NSCN-K, fighting for an independent homeland for the Naga tribe in the north-eastern Indian state of Nagaland, has at least 50 camps with 5,000 guerrilla fighters entrenched in fortified bunkers in the Sagaing Division.
"We have lost three of our cadres and as many wounded in the attacks. In retaliatory strikes, our boys killed more than 12 Myanmarese soldiers and injured many more," the rebel leader said.
"About 60 of our cadres who were at the general headquarters during the raid managed to flee," he added.
Myanmar's offensive comes a week after India's External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee visited Yangon and sought the country's help in cracking down on rebels from India's troubled northeast who are seeking refuge across the border.
"The offensive by the military junta has the backing of the Indian government with most of the weapons used in the operation supplied by New Delhi," another rebel leader said.
Mukherjee's visit came after reports from Indian security officials that hundreds of rebels from Assam have fled to Myanmar since New Delhi launched a military operation against the guerrillas earlier this month.
The Assam government blamed rebels from the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) for a recent wave of violence in the state that killed 86 people, 61 of them Hindi-speaking migrant workers.
At least four other militant groups from India's northeast, including the ULFA, have training camps in northern Myanmar's thick jungles.
"There could be ULFA camps here and there that might have come in the way of the military attack in Myanmar but we are not very sure," Jami said. "We too have positioned our cadres and would repulse the offensive."
There has been no immediate confirmation of the military offensive from Myanmar.
The NSCN's Khaplang faction has been observing a ceasefire with New Delhi since 2001 although peace talks are yet to begin.
Myanmar had earlier pledged that the junta would not let Indian rebels operate from its soil. Myanmar last year launched a military operation against the NSCN-K and overran several of their bases.
India and Myanmar share a 1,640-km unfenced border, allowing militants from the northeast to use the adjoining country as a springboard to carry out hit-and-run strikes on federal soldiers.
The rebels say they are seeking to protect their ethnic identities and allege the central government has exploited the resources in this mineral, tea, timber, and oil-rich region.
More than 50,000 people have lost their lives to insurgency in the northeast region since India's independence in 1947.