19 dead in fighting between army and rebels — Myanmar military

A suspected rebel figthter takes up position during clashes with the military in Muse

The Ta'ang National Liberation Army, or TNLA, one of several insurgent groups fighting for more autonomy in the north, said it launched the operation on Saturday, while government and military sources confirmed the death toll.

Pictures of burned out vehicles and armed men running for cover spread quickly on social media. The sound of automatic gunfire filled the air as ambulances picked up the wounded.

"Nineteen [people] were killed in fighting", the Myanmar military source said, adding that two dozen had been injured.

Nan Mwe Phown, a Red Cross member who was at a hospital in Muse, said the dead included 13 male civilians and two female civilians, including a pregnant woman, as well as several police officers.

He called the operation terrorism. He told dpa earlier that just 17 people were killed in the attack. "This is a terrorist attack".

TNLA spokesman Mai Aik Kyaw told Agence France-Presse that they attacked joint military and militia posts in the Shan state town of Muse and on a road to Lashio.

The TNLA claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement on Facebook, saying it was a response to recent army offensives against another armed group, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

TNLA forces reportedly attacked a casino run by a militia and a Myanmar army post.

The United Nations estimates more than 690,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since fighting in the western state of Rakhine broke out last August.

But the effort has been severely hampered by a surge in fighting between Myanmar security forces and an alliance of rebel groups in northeastern Shan and Kachin states.

Observers believe Beijing holds significant sway over the ethnic rebels near its border and is a key player in a faltering peace process steered by Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

More than a third of Myanmar's townships are affected by unresolved conflict, according to a 2017 report from the Asia Foundation.

Internally displaced people set up a campfire for warmth outside a temporary shelter in Danai, Kachin state, on May 12, 2018.