YANGON - Almost 50,000 people have been displaced by fighting in northern Myanmar after an alliance of ethnic armed groups launched an offensive against the military two weeks ago, the United Nations said Friday.
Fighting has raged for two weeks across northern Shan state near the Chinese border, in what analysts say poses the biggest military challenge to the junta since it seized power in 2021.
The Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and Arakan Army (AA) say they have seized dozens of military outposts and blocked vital trade routes to China.
"As of 9 November, almost 50,000 people in northern Shan were forced into displacement," the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said in an update.
Outside Shan state's Lashio township -- home to the military's northeastern command -- internet and phone services were disrupted, hindering humanitarian responses to the fighting, UNOCHA said.
Restrictions on transport and availability of cash were hindering efforts by local humanitarian groups to give out aid, it said.
A further 40,000 people have been displaced by clashes between the military and its opponents in neighbouring Sagaing region and Kachin state since early November, UNOCHA said.
The military has made little comment on the surprise offensive but earlier this week the junta-appointed president warned the country could end up "split into various parts" if the military was unable to "manage" the fighting.
The remoteness of the rugged, jungle-clad region -- home to pipelines that supply oil and gas to China -- and patchy communications make it difficult to verify casualty numbers.
Beijing, a major junta ally and arms supplier, on Tuesday confirmed there had been Chinese casualties as a result of the clashes in Myanmar.
A foreign ministry spokesperson did not say whether the Chinese were killed or wounded, nor where precisely the incident had taken place.
- Communications blackout -
Myanmar's borderlands are home to more than a dozen ethnic armed groups, some of which have fought the military for decades over autonomy and control of lucrative resources.
Some have trained and equipped newer "People's Defence Forces" (PDF) that have sprung up since the coup to fight the military's bloody crackdown on dissent.
Earlier this week, several PDF groups claimed to have seized the town of Kawlin in Sagaing region, home to mostly ethnic-majority Bamar and a traditional recruiting ground for the military.
AFP was unable to reach residents in the area, where internet and phone lines are largely cut.
Sagaing, which borders Shan and Kachin states, has become a hotspot of resistance to junta rule.
Dozens of PDF groups are active across Sagaing, where the military is accused of burning villages and massacring inhabitants.