Fighting Stops as Kokang Surrender Arms to Chinese

irrawaddy news, 29th Aug 2009

Fighting near the Sino-Burmese border came to an abrupt halt today after about 700 Kokang troops handed over their weapons to Chinese officials following days of clashes that sent thousands fleeing across the border.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese military analyst who is close to the Kokang, told The Irrawaddy on Saturday that at least 700 soldiers from the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), an ethnic-Kokang militia, crossed the border into China today and surrendered their arms to local officials.

Kokang troops at a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the founding of the MNDAA.

He added that troops from the United Wa State Army (UWSA), a much larger force allied to the Kokang, have been repositioned to Wa-controlled territory.

The Irrawaddy was unable to verify this information with other independent sources.

The sudden end to the fighting came a day after Kokang and UWSA troops ambushed a convoy of Burmese army vehicles in Kokang territory. According to unconfirmed reports, more than a dozen Burmese soldiers were killed in the attack.

On Thursday, a 20-year ceasefire between the Burmese army and the armed ethnic groups broke down after government forces moved to occupy Kokang territory. Since then, the Burmese army has sent reinforcements into the area from Light Infantry Divisions 33 and 99.

The crisis began on Monday, when tens of thousands of refugees, including Chinese businessmen, started flooding across the border into China from Laogai, a town in Kokang territory. Cross-border trade in Laogai has since come to a standstill and trading at other border checkpoints has decreased, say sources in the area.

The rapidly deteriorating situation caused consternation in Beijing, which has long had close relations with both sides in the conflict. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu said China hoped the Burmese junta would deal with the situation properly and ensure stability along the border and protect Chinese citizens in Burma.

“China is following the situation closely and has expressed concern to Myanmar [Burma],” said Jiang.

Some observers said that junta head Snr-Gen Than Shwe’s decision to send troops into Kokang territory despite China’s concerns showed his determination to demonstrate that he will not be constrained by Beijing.

“The Burmese junta doesn’t care what anybody thinks, so I don’t think the generals are thinking about China’s response,” said Chan Tun, a former Burmese ambassador to China.

But while Naypyidaw showed little concern about the consequences of renewed fighting in the area, Beijing couldn’t ignore the worsening situation, as Chinese living near the border expressed outrage at the Burmese military’s actions.
“I feel upset with the Burmese government. The Kokang people have Chinese blood. And in China, many people are so angry that they are urging the Chinese government to send troops to help the Kokang,” said a Chinese journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Although Beijing appears to have defused the potentially explosive situation for the time being, it remains to be seen if fighting will resume between the Burmese and the Wa, who command a much larger military force than the Kokang.

The current conflict stems from the refusal of ethnic ceasefire groups, including Kokang, Wa, Kachin and Shan militias, to transform themselves into border security forces under Burmese military command.

The 20,000-strong UWSA presents the greatest obstacle to Burmese ambitions to pacify the country’s borders after six decades of civil conflict. Although they were among the first ethnic groups to sign a ceasefire agreement with the current regime in 1989, they have also been the most resistant to any effort to weaken their hold over their territory.

In Rangoon, news of the clashes in the country’s north has revived memories of the insurgencies that wracked the region for decades.

“People here are talking about it at teashops. They are saying that this is the return of civil war,” said an editor of a private weekly journal in Rangoon.

Meanwhile, Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), called for a peaceful resolution of the ongoing conflict in northern Burma.

“We want the junta to resolve the issue in a peaceful way with ethnic groups,” NLD spokesman Han Thar Myint told The Irrawaddy on Saturday. “The cause of the conflict is the Burmese regime’s failure to resolve problems in the country politically.”


10,000 More Kokang Refugees Flee into China

28th Aug 2009, irrawaddy news,

Another wave of 10,000 Kokang civilians fled into China on Thursday and Friday due to continued clashes between the Burmese army and ethnic militias in the Kokang region of northeastern Burma, said sources on the Sino-Burmese border.

Kokang refugees cross the Chinese border into Nansan in Zhenkang County in Yunnan Province, China, on August 25. (Photo: Reuters)

Some 4,000 of the displaced villagers have not yet received food or shelter due to logistics, a relief worker in the area who requested anonymity told The Irrawaddy on Friday.

He said the newly arrived Kokang refugees are being divided into two shelters—one in Zheng Kang County and one in Gengma County where Chinese authorities are already providing humanitarian assistance to the more than 10,000 Kokangs who arrived within the last week.

He pointed out that many of the refugees are not sheltering in the camps because they can stay with their relatives on the Chinese side of the border.

Meanwhile, electricity and lines of communication have been cut in and around the Kokang capital, Laogai, said the relief worker. 

Saeng Juen, one of the editors of the Thailand-based Shan Herald Agency for News, said at least 30,000 fled into China on Thursday. The Irrawaddy could not independently confirm this report, however.  

A girl carries a baby on her back at a temporary housing area at Nansan after fleeing from the conflict in Kokang region. (Photo: Reuters)

A humanitarian NGO working in the region reported on Friday that refugees are still crossing the border into Yunnan Province and clashes between the Burmese army and the Kokang militia and its allies are ongoing.

Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese analyst on the Sino-Burmese border, said that major clashes have been reported in Chinshwehaw, a Kokang town south of Laogai, at about 11 a.m. On Friday.

He said that Chinese authorities would only allow Kokang-based Chinese nationals to cross into China and that some refugees were stopped at the border crossing.   

The Burmese army seized Laogai on Monday night without a single bullet being fired.

However, on Thursday morning a Burmese police patrol was ambushed by the Kokang army, and several clashes were later reported in and around Laogai between the Burmese army and an alliance of ethnic ceasefire groups: the Kokang militia, known as the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and its allies the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the National Democratic Alliance Army—Eastern Shan State (NDAA).

The three insurgent groups are among 17 ethnic armies that have reportedly signed ceasefire agreements with the Burmese junta over the past 20 years.

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