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Ambulance driver killed in Myanmar as army battles rebels

File photo. Photograph:( AFP )

AFP Yangon, Myanmar Aug 18, 2019, 11.51 AM (IST)

A volunteer ambulance driver was killed in Myanmar's remote northeast as clashes between the army and ethnic insurgents escalated over the weekend, state media reported Sunday.

The area near the Chinese border has been riven by armed conflict for decades, but a fresh round of violence was sparked this week when a coalition of armed groups launched joint attacks against a military academy and police outposts, killing at least 15.

The army claims the attacks were retaliation for massive drug seizures in July, but insurgents say they were responding to military offensives.

An ambulance from a local philanthropy group working around the town of Lashio came under assault by an insurgent sniper and artillery fire on Saturday, the state-owned Global New Light of Myanmar reported.

The attack killed 58-year-old driver Tun Myint, his wife Tin Tin Aye told AFP.

"The car was hit when they were trying to turn back from the mission because of intense fighting," she said.

The video circulating online that could not be independently verified showed an overturned ambulance on the side of a road and workers frantically transferring a limp body to another vehicle.

The Taaung National Liberation Army, one of the members of the Northern Alliance coalition of insurgent groups, said it was unclear who was responsible for the attack.

"As the fighting was intensifying, it is hard to say who to blame," the TNLA's Mai Aik Kyaw told AFP.

Myanmar security forces clearing mines near a bridge also found a weapons cache with dozens of explosive devices, detonators and grenades, according to state media.

The US Embassy in Yangon has issued a travel warning for areas near the recent fighting and on Friday urged "restraint" from all sides in the conflict. 

The area around Lashio is crisscrossed by a patchwork of ethnic rebel groups fighting the military for more autonomy and control over land and resources. 

It is also home to what experts believe to be the world's largest methamphetamine-producing region, fuelling a complex web of conflict.  

Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi pledged to secure a peace agreement with insurgent groups when she took office in 2016, but no major progress has been made.

Story highlights

The army claims the attacks were retaliation for massive drug seizures in July, but insurgents say they were responding to military offensives.