All 127 members of the military’s Infantry Battalion (IB) 129 stationed in the besieged town of Laukkai on the Myanmar-China border surrendered last Sunday to anti-regime forces, according to the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).
The MNDAA, a member of the tripartite Brotherhood Alliance of ethnic armed groups that launched an offensive against the junta late last month, made the announcement on Monday.
Laukkai, the administrative centre of the Kokang Self-Administered Zone in northern Shan State, has been the scene of fighting since the start of the offensive on October 27. Some 2,000 residents fled the town last week amid fears of an intensification of the clashes.
The mass surrender, which also included more than 100 family members of the soldiers, came a day after at least six displaced residents were killed by shelling just outside of the town.
According to MNDAA spokesperson Li Kyar Win, the group and its allies guaranteed the safety of the soldiers and their families and vowed not to detain or torture those who laid down their weapons.
“We are guaranteeing the life and safety of those who have come into the light. We will also maintain and protect their human dignity and the dignity of the soldiers,” he said in a video posted online.
He also stated that medical assistance would be provided to those who needed it and that travel expenses would be given to help the soldiers and their families reunite with relatives.
Additionally, the spokesperson claimed that each soldier received 1 million kyat (around US$480 at the exchange rate set by the junta, but much less at the more widely used black market rate) upon their surrender, while family members received 100,000 kyat ($48) each.
On Tuesday, the MNDAA announced that it had surrounded Laukkai and was preparing to take control of the town from a junta-allied Border Guard Force.
“We have surrounded Laukkai and soon will retake it,” the group said in a statement.
Laukkai, which has become notorious as a centre of illegal online scams and human trafficking, was controlled by the MNDAA until 2009, when Myanmar’s military captured the town in the worst conflict since the two sides signed a ceasefire 20 years earlier.
Min Aung Hlaing, the leader of the junta that seized power in February 2021, came to prominence at that time as the regional commander responsible for ousting the MNDAA from Laukkai.