A major armed group in Myanmar says it has captured an outpost of the army near the country's eastern border with Thailand, as armed resistance ramps up against the military junta.
Forces of the Karen National Union (KNU) — one of the largest armed groups in Myanmar — reportedly seized the army base in Karen State near the Salween River early on Tuesday morning.
Footage posted on social media showed flames and smoke rising from the forested hills.
"Our troops captured the Burmese military camp," KNU's head of foreign affairs Padoh Saw Taw Nee told AFP. He said the camp had been burned down and the group was still checking on deaths and casualties.
Some villagers had already left their homes for other towns fearing retaliation from the Myanmarese military.
"Nobody dares to stay... they (villagers) ran early this morning already when the fire fighting started," said Hkara, a resident, who is ethnic Karen and only has one name.
Residents on the Thai side also reported hearing gunfire and explosions coming from across the border.
A provincial official from a Thai town across the border said, "There has been heavy fighting at the Myanmar army outpost opposite Mae Sam Laep."
"Our security officials are assessing the situation, but so far, there has been no report of impact on the Thai side," said the Thai official.
Fighting has escalated in the border territory since the Myanmarese military seized power in a coup and plunged Myanmar into turmoil on February 1. The junta has also launched a brutal crackdown on protesters seeking a return to civilian rule.
A number of the nearly 20 armed militant groups that control large areas mostly in border regions, like the KNU, have threatened to retaliate against the junta's violent response to nationwide protests.
Last month, the KNU overran an army outpost in the region, and the junta responded with multiple airstrikes.
Those were the first aerial offensives conducted in Karen State in over 20 years.
Clashes have so far displaced more than 24,000 civilians, including some 2,000 who crossed the river to seek brief refuge on the Thai side, in recent weeks.
Early this month, the United Nations (UN) special envoy for Myanmar warned of the risk of civil war in the ethnically diverse nation.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, fighting has escalated in several regions since the coup.
Security forces have killed more than 750 civilians while attempting to quash protests, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which has been tracking arrests and deaths in the country.
The fighting in the eastern border areas comes after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) said member states had reached a consensus with Myanmar's military regime on ending the violence in the country.
Leaders of the 10 ASEAN member states met with Myanmar's coup leader Min Aung Hlaing at a summit in Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, on Saturday.
But Myanmar's pro-democracy activists censured the agreement, saying that it did not reflect the will of the people or match the realities on the ground.
Protest organizers also vowed to keep up the rallies against the junta.