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Thousands flee as Kokang and government troops fight

Ruili, New Delhi (Mizzima) - Thousands of refugees on Friday continued fleeing to the Sino-Burma border as clashes between the Burmese Army and Kokang rebels entered the second day.

Tension, which had been building up since early August, between the two armies sparked a gun fight on Thursday and on Friday skirmishes continued in various locations near the Sino-Burma border and in the Kokang capital of Lao Kai.

“Most refugees are from Lao Kai town. They include various groups of people including businessmen. They continued coming until this morning,” a refugee, who crossed over to the Chinese town of Nam San on Friday morning, told Mizzima.

He said, as most refugees are not concentrated in one location it is difficult to determine the exact number but he believes it would be thousands.

On Friday morning, sources said, a skirmish took place in Loa Kai town between the Kokang troops, who remain loyal to their supreme leader Peng Jiasheng, and the government troops, who have lately taken control of the Kokang headquarters of Lao Kai.

According to Sein Kyi, editor of the Thailand-based Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN), the fighting broke out as supporters of Peng, who remain hidden in parts of the town, attacked the Burmese soldiers and police in Loa Kai town.

Lao Kai, the once fortified headquarters of Peng, was overun by the Burmese soldiers and police on Monday, after Peng, the supreme leader of the Kokang Army, along with three others were issued arrest warrants.

On Tuesday, with the help of government troops, Peng’s deputy Bai Suoqian was appointed the new leader of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA).

“But Peng still enjoys the support of most of the Kokang Army and some of them still remain inside Loa Kai. This morning, they attacked the Burmese Army,” Sein Kyi, who is closely monitoring the situation in Kokang, told Mizzima.

He said fighting also took place in separate areas along the Loa Kai-Qing Shui He (Chin Shwe Haw), and also in other places along the Sino-Burma border.

But with clashes mounting, villagers and local residents continue to flee to the Chinese side of the border and are being forced to live in terrible conditions.

“We have to survive on our own. We have to rent and arrange our own food. So far I still did not get any assistance from anywhere. Chinese authorities, are crossing checking us but it is not so strict. Even this morning there were a lot of people arriving,” a refugee told Mizzima.

The mass exodus, which some reports state to be over 10,000, began after tension broke out between the Kokang and the junta’s troops in early August. On August 8, government troops conducted a raid on Peng’s residence on the pretext of eliminating drugs.

And on August 23, the Burmese soldiers conducted yet another raid on Peng’s house on the pretext of searching for a hidden arms factory. But in both the raids, Peng escaped arrest. But later, the Lashio police served a summons to him and three others to appear before the court.

But when Peng refused to appear, an arrest warrant was issued for him and three others including his brother.

“Earlier, I thought Peng and his troops will hold on to their line of ‘No shooting first’ but now it seems they are not hesitating to fire,” Sein Kyi said.

The fight on Thursday near Qing Shui He was first launched by the Kokang Army, said Sein Kyi adding that the Kokang Army had warned the Burmese soldiers not to cross over to their remaining territory.

The tension between the Kokang forces and government troops slowly began after Peng’s troops rejected the junta’s proposal to transform their army into a Border Guard Force, an army to be controlled by the Burmese Army.

Observers believe that the junta is using the same old devious tactic of divide and rule in order to eliminate groups that rejected its proposal.

Phoe Than Gyuang, spokesperson of the once powerful Burma Communist Party (BCP), said “we have seen the junta’s tactics earlier and this is similar. We can expect the junta to launch attacks on other groups soon.”

Peng’s Kokang Army has former members of the once powerful Communist Party of Burma (CPB). The MNDAA broke away from the CPB in 1989 and signed a peace agreement with the Burmese junta the same year.

Following the ceasefire pact, the Kokang Amry had been given special privileges including self-administration of the Kokang area known as Special region (1). But the once cosy relationship between the two armies, following the junta’s proposal to turn the Kokang Army into a Border Guard force, has soured.   

Sein Kyi said, “Fighting is likely to continue as the Kokang seems to be determined to keep its territory intact. And I was also receiving information that the Wa army has send troops to help the Kokang.”

The United Wa State Army, also a group that broke away from the CPB and signed a peace agreement with the junta in 1989, had recently formed an alliance with three other armed groups – the Kokang Army or MNDAA, the Mongla or Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) and the Kachin Independence Organisation.

All the four groups that formed the Myanmar Peace and Democracy Front (MPDF) had all rejected the junta’s proposal to transform their armies.

But as fighting between the armies continue, more villagers are forced to flee to the Chinese border as refugees of war or hide in the jungles as internally displaced people.

Last Updated ( Friday, 28 August 2009 23:05 )  

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