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15 Myanmarese soldiers killed, claim Naga rebels

At least 15 Myanmarese soldiers and six anti-India rebels have been killed in week-long fighting between the two sides inside Myanmar.

india Updated: Jan 14, 2006 15:09 IST

At least 15 Myanmarese soldiers and six anti-India tribal separatists were killed and dozens wounded in week-long fighting between the two sides inside Myanmar, a rebel leader said on Saturday.

There is no independent confirmation of the clashes from the Myanmarese authorities.

But a spokesman of the SS Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) said guerrilla fighters were engaged in heavy fighting since January 7 with soldiers of the junta in the thickly forested Myanmar's northern Sagaing Division.

"So far we have killed 15 Myanmarese soldiers and lost six of our cadres. It is no longer mere fighting, but a full scale battle, with the junta using mortars and heavy weapons on us," senior NSCN-K leader Kughalo Mulatonu told the agency on telephone from somewhere close to the India-Myanmar border.

The NSCN-K is an influential rebel group fighting for an independent tribal homeland in Nagaland. The NSCN has at least 50 camps with some 7,000 rebels entrenched in fortified bunkers in Myanmar.

"Myanmarese soldiers have managed to demolish and burn down at least 50 of our makeshift shelters housing some 500 cadres although they managed to escape," the rebel leader said.

"We are getting reports that the junta is planning a massive strafing operation with helicopter gunship on our camps. We have in place several heavy machineguns to challenge low flying helicopters."

Myanmar in December launched a massive military offensive to evict anti-India separatists based in the northern Sagaing Division.

"Chances of survival of many of our injured cadres are indeed remote as there is no medical support available with the terrain very hostile and rough," Mulatonu said.

The NSCN-K had claimed to have lost three of its cadres in the first round of military assault last month, besides two of its camps being demolished by advancing soldiers.

"They had also captured three of our leaders in a raid last month. We do not know if they are dead or alive," Mulatonu said.

At least four other militant groups from India's northeast, where numerous tribal and ethnic groups are fighting for greater autonomy or independence, have training camps in northern Myanmar's thick jungles - all of them sheltered there under the patronage of the NSCN-K.

The NSCN's Khaplang faction has been observing a ceasefire with New Delhi since 2001 although peace talks are yet to begin.

Myanmar in January last year killed at least 20 anti-India rebels, most of them from the NSCN-K, in a similar military offensive in the same area. Myanmar had repeatedly assured New Delhi that the junta would not let Indian rebels operate from its soil.

The first time Myanmar launched a military operation against the Indian rebels was in 2000 when at least a dozen separatists were killed. There were similar operations last year as well.

India and Myanmar share a 1,640-km long unfenced border, allowing militants from the northeast to use the adjoining country as a springboard for hit-and-run guerrilla strikes on federal soldiers.

More than 50,000 people have lost their lives to insurgency in the northeast since India's independence in 1947.

First Published: Jan 14, 2006 15:09 IST