YANGON (TIP): Heavy fighting between Myanmar’s army and rebels has killed 47 soldiers, state media said on February 20, sending a flood of people across the border with China and overshadowing hopes for a national ceasefire as a crucial election looms.
Myanmar has informed Beijing about the clashes, which have raged since February 9, according to the Global New Light of Myanmar, marking a dramatic resurgence of conflict with largely ethnic Chinese rebels in the Kokang region in Shan State. The flaring of a conflict which had been largely dormant for six years, is an ominous sign for the government as it attempts to forge a comprehensive ceasefire deal with the country’s myriad ethnic armed groups — a deal it says is essential to embed reforms and drive development.
Kokang fighters with “heavy weapons including anti-aircraft machine guns” attempted to capture the region’s capital Laukkai, just a few miles from the Chinese border, but were repelled by the army, state media said.
“So far, the fighting has left government forces with 47 dead, 73 wounded and five vehicles destroyed,” said the English language report. It is unclear what provoked the latest round of violence, which was announced as the nation celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of independence hero Aung San — the father of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi — who is lauded for backing political autonomy for ethnic areas.
Information Minister Ye Htut blamed local Kokang rebel leader Phone Kya Shin for the fighting and called on Beijing to reign in any local officials who might be helping the group on their side of the border. “I think the Chinese government should scrutinise the acts of regional authorities if they want to keep goodwill and friendship with Myanmar and stability in the border area,” he told mediaperson on February 19.
The intensity of the fighting sent people fleeing from the remote, mountainous wedge of land across the frontier into China. “China has provided them with necessary humanitarian assistance. As soon at the situation subsides, they will return to Myanmar,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said at a regular press briefing in Beijing on February 19, without estimating the number of those affected.