Himalayan News Service

Guwahati, January 23:

Heavy fighting in the thick jungles of Myanmar between government soldiers and Indian tribal separatists have claimed at least 15 lives, a rebel leader today said.

Kughalo Mulatonu, a leader of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), which is fighting for a tribal homeland in India’s northeastern state of Nagaland, said they lost five of their cadres in intense shelling by soldiers of the military-run Myanmar on their jungle bases.

“Myanmarese soldiers attacked some of our bases with rocket launchers and mortars killing five of our fighters,” Mulatonu told this correspondent over telephone from an undisclosed location along the India-Myanmar border. “We also killed 10 of their soldiers in retaliatory strikes. The battle is still continuing.” The military offensive to evict anti-India separatists from Myanmar began in December with at least three brigades (about 10,000 personnel) involved in the operation. The NSCN leader said they had lost half-a-dozen mobile camps during the first burst of strikes by Myanmarese soldiers in December.

“There was a brief lull in the offensive by Myanmar. The latest strikes began on Wednesday when troops started targeting our camps,” Mulatonu said.

The latest offensive is taking place along the Chindwin River in the north of Myanmar, close to the abandoned World War II Shempuyang airport. There has been no immediate confirmation of the offensive from Myanmar. Mulatonu said all top leaders, including chairman SS Khaplang, are safe.

“If things do not go beyond control then we are all set to celebrate our (NSCN) silver jubilee next week in one of our main bases inside Myanmar,” the rebel leader said.

He said the NSCN has at least 50 camps with some 5,000 guerrilla fighters entrenched in fortified bunkers in the Sagaing Division of Myanmar.

At least four other militant groups from India’s northeast have training camps in northern Myanmar’s thick jungles — all of them sheltered there under the patronage of the NSCN. “Our fighters are prepared to either die but we are not going to leave our bases,” Mulatonu said.